Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Empowering African-American Adolescent Females

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Empowering African-American Adolescent Females

Article excerpt

In the past two decades, there has been a small but rowing body of literature pertaining to the issues and counseling needs of African-American adolescent females (e.g., Boyd-Franklin, 1991; Harris, 1992; Muller, 2000). This increase of literature is due, in part, to the growing numbers of African-American females experiencing depression (White, 1990), eating disorders (Lester & Petrie, 1998), and suicide (Gibbs, 1988). Furthermore, African-American adolescent females are contending with typical developmental tasks in the context of a society that has historically devalued and portrayed African-American women either as poor, welfare-dependent, working-class women, or as mothers of illegitimate, impoverished, and delinquent children (Coultas, 1989; hooks, 1981). These negative societal images and stereotypes have adversely affected the self-esteem and, consequently; the academic and emotional development of young African-American females (Neal & Wilson, 1989). For this reason, African-American adolescent females are prime candidates for counseling in schools.

The purpose of this article is three-fold: (a) to review issues that can be considered when counseling African-American adolescent females; (b) to discuss counseling implications based on those issues; and (c) through the use of a case example, to illustrate a school counselor successfully assisting and empowering a member of this adolescent group.

Counseling Issues

This section discusses relevant issues to consider when counseling African-American adolescent females. These issues were selected based on our experiences as African-American females and on the literature pertaining to the mental health of African-American women. By no means are these the only issues that African-American adolescent females experience or present in counseling. However, school counselors might consider these highlighted general issues when conceptualizing cases involving these adolescents.

The phrase African-American adolescent females is used in this article to describe adolescent females who identify themselves as Black or African American. Since these adolescents are not a homogeneous group, the reader is advised to use the information presented in this article as one of many resources to understand the complexities of growth and development an African-American female experiences.

Racism, Sexism, and Classism

According to Almquist (1995), African-American women have the distinction of being the only group that was enslaved and brought to the United States to "work, produce, and to reproduce" (p. 577). Numerous social scientists and researchers have written about the continued dual oppression that Black women face because of racism and sexism (e.g., Beale, 1970; Giddings, 1984; Greene, 1992; Harley & Terborg-Penn, 1997; Murray, 1970; Reid, 1988). Others (e.g., Blumberg, 1991; hooks, 1993) have addressed the triple oppression based on race, gender, and class with which African-American women contend because of the disproportionate number of them who are economically disadvantaged.

The effects of dual and triple oppression are significant when conceptualizing the problems and concerns of African-American adolescent females. For instance, a school counselor might ask a 15-year-old African-American female with a 3.75 grade point average why she has not applied to college. The student might respond by stating, "Why should I? My family can't afford to pay for it, and they won't accept me anyway because I'm Black!" This student's response reflects feelings of hopelessness as a result of her family's financial as well as racial background. Or, another example might be a 12-year-old African-American female student who expresses discontent in school because she believes that she is not capable. When asked why she feels this way, she responds, "I'm not a Black boy, so I can't be a "star athlete" and I'm not White, so I can't be a "star student! …

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