The world tells Black women that higher education and hard work prepare them for postgraduate success in their journeys. However, society shakes this idea with misogynoir 一discrimination against Black women with the intersectionalities of race and gender kept in mind. Black women also deal with microaggressions, lack of opportunities, and the pressure to be "twice as good" to receive respect in their careers.
But what about the physical and mental tolls this takes on Black women's bodies?
Stress affects many people, but it affects Black women the hardest. This concept is nothing new; the term for this kind of stress is weathering. Coined by Arline Geronimus, weathering is proposed to account for early health issues due to constant exposure to experiences of social, economic, and political issues. Experts see this through the allostatic load, a unit of measurement for chronic stress-related health effects in the body. When someone experiences continual stress, it results in a higher allostatic load, which causes elevated cortisol levels from the body being in constant fight-or-flight mode. In turn, this adds to many adverse health outcomes, such as migraines, hypertension, and heart disease. Geronimus used the term "weathering" to explain the poor maternal health and birth outcomes of African American women that she observed in correspondence with increased age. However, Geronimus learned that weathering applied to more than maternal health, so she and many experts continued that research to examine other health issues.
According to a recent study, Black women experience "accelerated biological aging" due to continued stress. In that study, 60% of Black women "suffered multiple morbidities, even though 83% of these women were younger than 39 years of age." Since 1995, Boston University's Black Women's Health Study has been observing this idea. They have found correlations between Black women, stress, and several ailments and diseases such as breast cancer, colon cancer, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, uterine fibroids, systemic lupus erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis. Research also furthers that with a study: while college-educated individuals are less prone to depression, Black people -- particularly Black women -- are more inclined by 45% to higher metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that further increase the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. It is obvious how misogynoir can play a role in Black women's health.
As far as the mental health sphere, there are some connections between Black women and discrimination. Black women are more prone to sleeping issues, ruminations (the process of thinking the same thoughts, usually sad or dark), anxiety, and persistent depression. Psychologist Asha Tarry has seen instances when Black women address their mental health after feeling physical ailments. They typically report symptoms like upper body pain, abdominal discomfort, and irritability, hinting at the connection between the mind and body.
Amani M. Allen furthers this idea of Black women internalizing their stressors mentally and physically. She created a study of what she named as the "superwoman schema," which works to protect Black women from racial and gender-based discrimination. The superwoman schema has five different elements: an obligation to present an image of strength, a commitment to suppressing emotions, resistance to being vulnerable, a drive to succeed despite limited resources, and a responsibility to help others. The superwoman schema connects to several health disparities for Black women who possessed a high-school diploma; that group tended to internalize the discrimination, and Black women as a whole are less likely to report that discrimination. At the same time, the study also found that Black women -- particularly college-educated women -- who reported suppressing emotions had lower levels of stress in their bodies. While more college-educated Black women are more aware of misogynoir, it does not mean that they are ready or comfortable enough to report that misogynoir to their superiors. Oftentimes, they still work through it, attempting to make it in life for better pay and more "respectable" job titles.
The world is not kind to women, especially Black women. A lot of work must happen in society for Black women to obtain postgraduate success.To begin with, there has to be a dismantling of misogynoir. We have to address the intersectionalities between race and gender. As far as the microcosmic portion, Black women have to address the racism and sexism in society; so far, Black women are doing their job in acknowledging those matters.
The connection between discrimination and Black women’s mental and physical states are becoming more apparent. Here are some organizations and resources that Black women can use to seek help with physical and mental health:
The Loveland Foundation: Founded by academic and activist Rachel Cargle, The Loveland Foundation provides financial help for Black women and girls to seek therapy for healing and wellness.
Therapy for Black Girls: Therapy for Black Girls is an online space for Black women and girls to find resources for mental health and wellness. It helps find a therapist near you and an online community of Black women for support.
Black Women's Health Imperative: Black Women's Health Imperative is the first nonprofit organization founded in 1983 by Black women to help Black women and girls fight health disparities.
The Prosp(a)rity Project: The Prosp(a)rity Project is another nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower Black American girls and women with financial, professional, and holistic success. They offer programs like the 35*2 Initiative, which helps them with student debt relief. They also offer personalized financial coaching to young Black women.
Lauren Gaydosh, Ph.D. et al. College Completion Predicts Lower Depression but Higher
Arline T. Geronimus, Sc.D. The weathering hypothesis and the health of African-American women and infants: evidence and speculations.
Arline T. Geronimus, Sc.D. Do US Black Women Experience Stress-Related Accelerated
Kara Manke, Ph.D. How the “Strong Black Woman” Identity Both Helps and Hurts.
Tonya Russell. Let's not forget, weathering is also killing Black people.
Asha Tarry, LMSW. How employers can address Black workers’ mental health.