Dissertation Spotlight: Sisterhood, Safe Spaces & Self-Affirmations: How Black Women Practice Self-Care In Response To Racism And Discrimination

Being a minority comes with tremendous obstacles; however, for Black women who exist in a world that isn’t designed for their dual identities as both a racial and a gender minority, it can be debilitating. Regarding these two separate but equally defining identities, Black women experience specific forms of stress that other individuals may not. Monet’s dissertation examines how Black women cope with the negative psychological impacts that result from an extended period of discrimination. Feelings of hopelessness, depression, anxiety, and PTSD are common for Black women and even more difficult to manage due to their negative stigmas and the often incompetent mental healthcare system. 

Monet utilizes a “relational cultural theory” as her “primary framework to demonstrate Black women receive an increased desire for connection, resources, and knowledge, as well as experience psychological growth through relational resilience,” (ix). She also performed a content analysis of a total of 415 blog entries and 3,300 tweets from two platforms, Black Girl in Om and Women’s Health, to analyze differences in self-care advice based on race and type of platform. Through this content analysis, she finds that Black women “share resources and personal experiences about how discrimination negatively impacts their mental health through blog posts and user comments,” (x).

Monet exemplifies a real case of police brutality with a Black woman named Erica Garner whose father was killed in 2014. Garner described this traumatic experience of brutality as a major stressor for her mental health and described how it acts as an emotional and mental burden for her. These publicized instances of injustice created conversation on the coping mechanisms for those who experience trauma from their everyday experiences of discrimination. Not only do Black women experience mental stressors, but they also face life stressors because of this disproportion, such as health disease, high blood pressure, and birthing complications. Therefore, Monet argues self-care is a necessary coping strategy for Black women in their navigation of inequality. 

Furthermore, online digital platforms help to alleviate Black women’s psychological distress. Monet investigates how Millenial and Gen-Z Black women teach one another their coping strategies and how to speak their truth. She expresses the importance of “understanding how sisterhood, collective unmasking, or speaking one’s story authentically and openly with others, and truth-telling are implicated in how Black women care for themselves while challenging the individualized nature of commercialized forms of coping,” (4). After discussing her data, Monet discusses her findings from the BGIO platform. 

In Monet’s findings from the Women’s Healthcare platform, the primary push factors included for women on this platform are physical illness, mental health, and managing role expectations. Lastly, she discusses the main themes of her interviews with Black women. “Respondents’ definitions of self-care include strategies that help them re-center their thoughts, better understand their emotions, and remain grounded despite the stress in their lives. [She] finds that Black women rely on other people to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression that stem from racism,” (6). She concludes that digital platforms can be useful for Black women to cultivate affirming networks of care, but the unwelcoming nature of the internet can hinder Black women’s willingness to turn to these platforms for assistance

“In the meantime, while people work tirelessly to challenge these oppressive systems, Black women continue to rely on each other and turn to collective care in their path to liberation and healing,” (158). 

Dr. Taylor Jackson is a graduate of the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University. This post was based on Taylor’s dissertation, written by COSSPP Blog Intern,  Jillian Kaplan.

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