In and out of Our Right Minds: The Mental Health of African American Women

By Diane R. Brown; Verna M. Keith | Go to book overview

11
MULTIPLE SOCIAL ROLES AND MULTIPLE
STRESSORS FOR BLACK WOMEN

Diane R. Brown and Donna L. Cochran

Get any five sisters in a room and at least four will tell stories of how their
mothers worked all day (or all night), cooked and cleaned, raised several
children, nurtured a man who was mistreated by the system.… And
almost all will talk about their mother's strength.

—MITCHELL (1998:66–67)

African American women have historically held multiple social roles, encompassing their personal and family life, community and workplace (Ralston 1997). The ability to manage multiple roles, often under oppressive circumstances, has come to symbolize the [strength] of African American women (hooks 1981). Yet few empirical studies have examined the mental health consequences of multiple role management among African American women. Unfortunately, much of the research has focused almost exclusively on White, middle-class, middle-aged women (Staples and Boulin-Johnson 1993). Thus little is known about the influence of multiple social roles on the psychological well-being of women of color, specifically African American women.

A number of factors provide explanations for the multiple roles held by African American women. In some cases, because of the economic marginality of many African American men, African American women have been forced to seek employment in order to contribute financially to the household (Staples 1988). At the same time, African American women have always been actively involved in care-providing responsibilities. Providing for immediate, extended, and fictive kin has been a long-standing tradition among African Americans (Dilworth-Anderson, Williams, and Cooper 1999; McCray 1980). Consequently, many African American communities show

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