strong black woman, study, health
A new study revealed both the protective and negative health effects of the "strong Black woman" stereotype as a coping mechanism against discrimination.

Study Shows Possible Positive and Negative Health Effects of ‘Strong Black Woman’ Schema

The trope of the “strong Black woman” may seem like a positive stereotype, but Black women have reported that the stoicism prescribed to them can take its toll on their mental health. A new study further examines the stereotype’s effect on Black women’s overall health. It found some behaviors protect their well-being while others are harmful.

Amani M. Allen is the lead author of the study and associate professor of community health sciences and epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley. Allen and her collaborators launched a study in 2012 as part of the African American Women’s Heart and Health Study. They surveyed 208 Black women living in the San Francisco Bay Area on the links between social and environmental stressors.

In a focus group, Allen found many African American women adhere to the “strong Black woman” schema to cope with the stress of discrimination. From there, she told Berkeley Research, she decided to delve deeper into the effects of this stereotype.

Researchers often refer to the “strong Black woman” stereotype as the “superwoman schema.” Allen et al.’s study defines the “superwoman schema” as having five elements: perceived obligations to present an image of strength, suppress emotions, resist being vulnerable, succeed despite limited resources and help others.

A study that came out earlier this year in Sex Roles found Black women who adhere to this form of self-silencing report struggling with depressive symptoms.

Allen’s study, however, found that certain behaviors associated with the “superwoman schema” — like presenting an image of strength and suppressing one’s emotions — seemed to diminish the negative health effects that racism and sexism cause.

Other traits — like having an intense drive to succeed and feeling obligated to help others — seemed to exacerbate the negative health effects of discrimination.

Discrimination has been proven to have negative health effects on those who experience it. Black women describe racial discrimination as a persistent stressor, and chronic stress harms one’s health. In addition to stress, racism impacts resources like housing, education and employment, all of which are important factors in achieving good health, according to the American Public Health Association.

In this study, participants were asked to rate their experiences of racial discrimination in contexts like housing, employment, work life, school life, earning credit for loans and mortgages and healthcare. They also rated how they identified with facets of the “superwoman schema.” Finally, each participant underwent a physical exam. Researchers noted their height, weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and inflammation, among other health indicators. They then combined this data to come measure “allostatic load,” which indicates the level of chronic stress in the body. Chronic stress has been proven to be detrimental to physical health and even contribute to illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.

With all of these factors combined, the researchers found links between adherence to the “superwoman schema” and allostatic load. Some of the results contradicted previous studies. For example, psychological studies, such as that featured in Sex Roles, showed that suppressing emotions is negative for one’s health. However, Allen et al.’s study found that women who reported suppressing emotions had lower levels of allostatic load.

The report suggests this finding makes sense because anger — a common reaction to discrimination — is bad for one’s health.

“Indeed, AA women report ‘pent up’ anger due to emotion suppression, due in part to their efforts to avoid being labeled as the ‘angry black woman,’ and describe this form of emotion suppression as distressing,” it says. “However, studies also report anger as a particularly damaging emotion, which has been associated with numerous poor outcomes.”

Feeling the needs to succeed and help others both showed higher levels of allostatic load in the participants.

Overall, the study suggests researchers need to continue taking complexity into account when it comes to analyzing how people cope with stressors such as racism.

“Our findings affirm the need to consider individual variability in coping and potentially other psychosocial processes involved in the stress response process, and offer several insights that may help elucidate the mechanisms by which racial discrimination gets ‘under the skin,’” it says.

Related Story: During Suicide Prevention Week, People of Color’s Mental Health Struggles Cannot be Forgotten

Latest News

What Friends Tell Friends: Choose Kaiser Permanente

Originally published on Integrated, nonprofit health plan tops NICE Satmetrix customer experience benchmark study for 10th straight year. For the 10th year in a row, more people would recommend Kaiser Permanente to a friend or colleague than any other health plan in the nation, according to the recently released…

Cesar Conde

NBCUniversal Sets Ambitious 50% Diversity Goal for Women, People of Color

Cesar Conde, chairman at NBCUniversal News Group, announced a groundbreaking goal to have a 50% diverse workforce at NBCUniversal, according to Deadline. Conde, the first Latino in this role, outlined his plans in an internal video for employees on Wednesday. The ultimate goal is for NBCUniversal, No. 7 on DiversityInc’s 2020…

Mastercard Expands to the U.S. & Canada, Delivering a Search Tool That Identifies What Stores Near You Are Open for Business

Originally published on Search solution complements new Digital Acceleration for Small Business global initiative which helps small businesses advance digitally and drive online commerce As businesses seek to draw customers back both in store and online, Mastercard is introducing new tools to support them. Today, Mastercard announced the geographic…

TIAA Launches Programs to Raise Awareness of Racial Injustice and Support Communities in Need through the “Be The Change” Initiative

On June 30, TIAA announced new virtual programs designed to raise awareness of racial injustice and support communities in need as a part of the company’s recently launched “Be the Change” initiative. One is TIAA’s “Race Against Racism,” an effort in support of The Innocence Project which included more than…

Stop TB Partnership and Johnson & Johnson, with support from USAID and The Global Fund, Announce Price Reduction for SIRTURO® (bedaquiline) for Treatment of Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Originally published on Joint efforts aim to accelerate scale-up of WHO-recommended all-oral treatment regimens – a transition urgently needed to help protect the health of people with drug resistant-tuberculosis who are particularly vulnerable during COVID-19 pandemic In 2020, the initiative aims to reach at least 125,000 patients and could…

Toyota, Alabama A&M and Huntsville Hospital Collaborate to Make COVID-19 Testing Easier

Originally published on $100,000 grant provides free service to the community Alabama A & M University (AAMU), Huntsville Hospital and Toyota are developing a mobile health clinic initiative to provide free COVID-19 testing to underserved communities in Madison County. Launching later this year, the mobile medical clinic program has…

Sanofi and Regeneron Provide Update on Kevzara® (sarilumab) Phase 3 U.S. Trial in COVID-19 Patients

Originally published on Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: REGN) today announced that the U.S. Phase 3 trial of Kevzara® (sarilumab) 400 mg in COVID-19 patients requiring mechanical ventilation did not meet its primary and key secondary endpoints when Kevzara was added to best supportive care compared to best supportive care alone (placebo)….