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The double-edged sword of the “Strong Black Woman” schema

By Tabassum Shama

The Strong Black Woman (SBW) schema is the role of invincibility that black women take up both voluntarily and involuntarily.

  • Black women are taught from a young age to do everything by themselves (and for others). Historically, from the time of slavery, Black women were seen in the same light as Black men (needing to carry out a masculine role), and due to the current and continued “oppressive and limited socioeconomic mobility” of Black men, Black women are asked to take on all caretaking roles in the family: father, mother, breadwinner, caregiver, homemaker, and so on.

A study[1] of Black women from the Mid-Atlantic region (diverse in age, education level, socioeconomic background, faith, and geographical area) asked participants to share their experiences on personifying the “Strong Black Woman”:

  • 70% of the Black women studied said an aspect of being a SBW means to be self-sacrificing. This means, self-priority is a luxury rather than a priority.

This idea of invincibility and self-sacrifice takes a toll on their emotional, psychological, and physical health. Black women inhibit their emotions to create a sense of security and to take on the role of invincibility. The prolonged emotional inhibition starts to take a psychological and physical form such as depression, stress and anxiety, and high blood pressure. Since self care is a luxury, these issues become chronic and are often left untreated.

  • Black women take pride in their identity as a SBW because they are the “crux” of extreme oppression in the U.S: being Black and being a woman.

  • But this pride comes at a cost. Black women do not have anyone to lean on even when in need of help. Black women end up doing everything on their own, further reinforcing the SBW schema. The cycle repeats.

Takeaway: The “Strong Black Woman” schema is a) a prideful and crucial identifier for black women AND b) a tool to absolve societal responsibilities towards Black women. Black women stand at a point where they are empowered and powerless at the same time.

[1]Abrams, J. A., Maxwell, M., Pope, M., & Belgrave, F. Z. (2014). Carrying the World With the Grace of a Lady and the Grit of a Warrior: Deepening Our Understanding of the “Strong Black Woman” Schema. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 38(4), 503–518.

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