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Jan 02, 2022
They’ve manned the front lines for Black men’s lives, were early leaders in the women’s movement (despite initially not being afforded the same rights) and are pioneers of pop culture. In the 2020 presidential election, you might’ve read that “Black women saved the Democrats” and seen how Stacey Abrams, a voting rights activist, helped flip Georgia blue — a huge win for both Democrats and women’s rights advocates.
Too often forced to play both mother and father to their children and paid a sub-average wage, it’s no wonder Malcolm X described Black women as the most disrespected, unprotected, neglected people in America. And yet they’ve thrived, with studies showing that Black women are the most educated demographic in the U.S.
When you wake up to hate, discrimination, and unrealistic expectations of how you are to look and act, you’re going to adapt. It’s a law of Darwinism, and it’s exactly what Black women have done for years. Scientists refer to this self-sacrificing imperative to take care of everyone and everything the “Superwoman Schema” (also known as the “strong Black women” trope). And while Black women have learned to compartmentalize and suppress these feelings, a new study says the intense drive to succeed and the obligation to help and support others can create high levels of stress that is detrimental to one’s health.
2 - When Told How to Act
Held to unrealistic standards and struggling under the burden to save the world, many Black women face the additional strain of a society and mainstream media that reduce them to three basic types: the strong Black woman, the angry Black woman and the jezebel/video vixen. These categories leave no room for the intellectual Black woman, the nerdy Black woman or any other way an individual should be free to express herself. Consider this: Black women are more susceptible to loneliness and anxiety than Black men, and there are growing numbers of Black women who are aging alone. Where are these truths to be found in the mainstream media? How are Black women supposed to reveal (and process) those emotions when they see no representations of them?
3 - I'm Not Crazy
Therapy, mental health and self-awareness have long been part of the mainstream conversation, and yet barriers remain for African Americans to take advantage of these resources. One reason is that Black people are historically wary of “modern” medicine, dating back to the Tuskegee syphilis study, when participants were used, without their knowledge or consent, for medical research and many died or suffered grave side effects. As part of OZY’s Emmy-Award-winning show, Black Women Own the Conversation, one woman described being ghosted by her therapist after they’d formed a bond, leaving her confused and put off.
Black women may be the most educated group in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean they’re set up for success once they enter the workforce. Starting when they reach higher ed, Black women are usually the first or the only person of color in the room. This creates pressure to be twice as good to advance half as far, while they struggle with the notion that they’re representing their race and cannot fail, thereby disadvantaging those who might follow in their footsteps. Pressure to succeed and the sense of being watched more closely than their white counterparts can lead to social anxiety that’s crippling, even if Black women are hard-wired not to show it, or any weakness.
3 - PTSD
Between high child infant mortality rates, sexual assault (3.5 times higher than any other group), the wage gap, losing their husbands and boys to police brutality, and other traumas, it’s easy to see why so many Black women are afflicted with PTSD. In response, there’s been a heightened call to protect this vulnerable class — not only to safeguard them physically but also to ensure their sanity.
1 - Band Together
Many women who have successfully taken charge of their mental health have done so by finding community. And there are apps designed to help do just that: Ayana uses detailed questionnaires to connect members of marginalized communities with compatible licensed therapists, and Shine, a Black-owned self-care app, helps people “rest, heal, and grow through difficulty” with more than 600 guided meditations. OZY featured a story about Black women shaking up the wellness industry, which typically caters to white women, by offering yoga, meditation and coaching to support a healthy lifestyle. And we spoke to the “Oprah” of East Africa who says the first step to tackling depression can be as easy as opening up.
2 - Acknowledge/See Them
One way to support the mental health and well-being of Black women is to make sure they’re seen. During the mass protests that took place in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Ahmad Aubrey and others, Breonna Taylor’s name was quickly forgotten. It took celebrities and targeted campaigns demanding that the case be reopened for her name to make national news. OZY editor-in-chief Carlos Watson discussed this with Tiffany Loftin, youth and college division director of the NAACP, on The Time Is Now: Race and Resolution. “America has never respected Black women,” Loftin declared. None of Taylor’s killers have been arrested in relation to her murder because “femininity is only a weapon if you’re a white woman,” she added. It’s just one example of a chronic issue plaguing their community. The #SayHerName campaign was a similar rallying cry: Black women need to be seen. Otherwise, how can we help them?
3 - Alternative Coping
While many internalize the “strong Black woman” mantra, ultimately they must implement new coping techniques. Racial discrimination is a persistent and significant stressor that impacts health. To avoid absorbing or trying to override these pressures, women can take steps to mitigate the risks. In the workplace, for example, rather than ignore co-workers’ microaggressions, call for awareness activities and hold peers and leadership accountable. When facing the pressure to succeed at any cost, find someone with whom to share what that feels like. There are avenues and mechanisms to avoid compromising one’s mental health, but half the battle is recognizing the need and feeling empowered to seek help.
Take our quiz and see how much you've picked up. Send your thoughts and comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is the Superwoman Schema also known as?
“Strong Black woman” trope
Black women prefer this to antidepressant medication and counseling
This is not among the ways that Black women show depression
What can help protect the mental health of Black women?
Black women mental health apps
Provide coping outlets
All of the above
Black women are how much more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes?
Three to four times
What did the “Oprah” of East Africa name as the first step to tackling depression?
Acknowledging you have a problem
Holding it in
“Strong Black woman” trope
All of the above
Three to four times
Therapy for Black Girls: The topic of mental health can be daunting. This blog saw that as an opportunity and presents the subject in a welcoming, accessible way.
Get to know one of the kindest actors in Hollywood. Piper Perabo is known for her roles in Coyote Ugly, Covert Affairs and the new hit The Big Leap. Today, the dedicated actor opens up about her serendipitous breakout, her advice to young actors and lessons she’s learned from greats like Robert De Niro and her thoughts on today’s politics. Why is she unafraid of Hollywood's treatment of women as they get older? Because she’ll just ask for the male parts too!
OZY is a diverse, global and forward-looking media and entertainment company focused on “the New and the Next.” OZY creates space for fresh perspectives and offers new takes on everything from news and culture to technology, business, learning and entertainment.