“I Had To Be Strong”: Tensions in the Strong Black Woman Schema

Natalie N. Watson, Carla D. Hunter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although strength is often embraced as a vital aspect of African American womanhood, African American women’s endorsement of the strong Black woman race-gender schema has received empirical attention because of its association with harmful health outcomes. Thus, there is limited knowledge regarding how African American women simultaneously experience its liabilities (e.g., harmful health outcomes) and benefits (e.g., increased self-efficacy). Qualitative thematic analysis was used to analyze data from 13 African American women who discussed the competing messages experienced when internalizing the strong Black woman race-gender schema. Three tensions were identified: (a) be psychologically durable yet do not engage in behaviors that preserve psychological durability, (b) be equal yet be oppressed, and (c) be feminine yet reject traditional feminine norms. These tensions highlighted that the schema simultaneously produced advantageous outcomes with respect to self-efficacy yet unfavorable implications for self-care. Each tension is discussed with respect to its perceived advantages and disadvantages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)424-452
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Black Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • qualitative
  • racism
  • sexism
  • strong Black woman/superwoman

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Applied Psychology


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