Silenced, Shamed, Speaking Out and the Strong Black Woman

  • Ava Kanyeredzi


This chapter describes women’s initial attempts to speak about experiences of violence and abuse and the responses. When Black women are unable to manage adverse experiences and display distress, they can be perceived by family members and friends as failing to uphold the survival legacy handed down through the generations from slavery (Beauboeuf-Lafontant T, Gend Soc 21:28–51, 2007; Qual Soc 31:391–406, 2008; Behind the mask of the strong black woman: voice and the embodiment of a costly performance. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 2009; Hill Collins P, Black feminist thought: knowledge, consciousness and the politics of empowerment. Unwin Hyman, London, 1990; Fighting words: black women and the search for justice. Minnesota University Press, Minnesota, 1998; Lorde 1980, 1984; Washington P, Violence Against Women 7:1254–1283, 2001). Women interviewed for this project are encouraged by women they know to show strength, not dwell on past abuse and violence and to ignore their emotions. Even though they resist, they are nonetheless read by others as embodying strength; this incurs feelings of shame.


Strong black woman Shame Racial betrayal 


  1. Ahmed, S. (2004). The Cultural Politics of Emotions. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Ahmed, S. (2010). Secrets and Silence in Feminist Research. In R. Ryan-Flood & R. Gill (Eds.), Secrets and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections (pp. xxvi–xxxi). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  3. Ahrens, C. E. (2006). Being Silenced: The Impact of Negative Social Reactions on the Disclosure of Rape. Journal of Community Psychology, 38, 263–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Alleyne, A. (2004). Black Identity and Workplace Oppression. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 4(1), 4–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beauboeuf-Lafontant, T. (2007). “You Have to Show Strength” An Exploration of Gender, Race, and Depression. Gender & Society, 21, 28–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beauboeuf-Lafontant, T. (2008). Listening Past the Lies That Make Us Sick: A Voice-Centered Analysis of Strength and Depression Among Black Women. Qualitative Sociology, 31, 391–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beauboeuf-Lafontant, T. (2009). Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman: Voice and the Embodiment of a Costly Performance. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bernard, C. (2001). Lived Experiences – Representations of Black Mothers in Child Sexual Abuse Discourses. London: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  9. Black, P. (2012). Black by Design: A 2 Tone Memoir. London: Serpent’s Tail.Google Scholar
  10. Bogle, M. (1988). Brixton Black Women’s Centre: Organising on Child Sexual Abuse. Feminist Review, 28, 132–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bolen, R. (2001). Child Sexual Abuse: Its Scope and Our Failure. New York/London: Kluwer and Plenum.Google Scholar
  12. Boyce-Davies, C. (1994). Black Women, Writing and Identity: Migrations of the Subject. London/New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Briere, J. (1992). Child Abuse Trauma: Theory and Treatment of the Lasting Effects. Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  14. Brison, S. (1997). Outliving Oneself: Trauma, Memory, and Personal Identity. In D. Meyers (Ed.), Feminists Rethink the Self (pp. 12–39). Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  15. Brown, J. S., Casey, S. J., Bishop, A. J., Prytys, M., Whittinger, N., & Weinman, J. (2011). How Black African and White British Women Perceive Depression and Help-Seeking: A Pilot Vignette Study. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 57(4), 362–374.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Campbell, D., Campbell, J., Alexander, K., Callwood, G., Bertrand, D., Sharps, P., & St. Vil, N. (2017). Relationships, Attitudes and Behaviours of Caribbean Women and Men Towards Partner Violence and Sexual. Henderson Repository.
  17. Campbell, R., & Raja, S. (1999). Secondary Victimization of Rape Victims: Insights from Mental Health Professionals Who Treat Survivors of Violence. Violence and Victims, 14, 261–275.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Crenshaw, K. (1994). Intersectionality and Identity Politics: Learning from Violence Against Women of Color. In M. Fineman & R. Mykitiuk (Eds.), The Public Nature of Private Violence (pp. 178–193). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. Edge, D. (2007). Ethnicity, Psychosocial Risk, and Perinatal Depression: A Comparative Study Among Inner-City Women in the United Kingdom. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 63(3), 291–295.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Edge, D. (2008). ‘We Don’t See Black Women Here’: An Exploration of the Absence of Black Caribbean Women from Clinical and Epidemiological Data on Perinatal Depression in the UK. Midwifery, 24, 379–389.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Edge, D., & MacKian, S. C. (2010). Ethnicity and Mental Health Encounters in Primary Care: Help-Seeking and Help-Giving for Perinatal Depression Among Black Caribbean Women in the UK. Ethnicity and Health, 15(1), 93–111.Google Scholar
  22. Enander, V. (2010). “A Fool to Keep Staying”: Battered Women Labeling Themselves Stupid as an Expression of Gendered Shame. Violence Against Women, 16(1), 5–31.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Finkelhor, D. (1999). Child Sexual Abuse. Challenges Facing Child Protection and Mental Health Professionals. In E. Ullman & W. Hilweg (Eds.), Childhood Trauma, Separation and War (pp. 101–116). Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  24. Finkelhor, D., & Browne, A. (1985). The Traumatic Impact of Child Sexual Abuse: A Conceptualization. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 55(4), 530–541.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Fortune, M., & Enger, C. (2006). Violence Against Women and the Role of Religion. Harrisburg: VAWnet. A Project of the National Resource Center on DomesticViolence/Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Retrieved from http://www.v
  26. Fricker, M. (2008). Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. Theoria, 61, 69–71.Google Scholar
  27. Fyfe, M. (2007). Survivor’s Stories: An Enlightening Journey Through the Differing Lives of Child Abuse Survivors (Vol. 1–6). Hitchin: 11th Commandment Publishing.Google Scholar
  28. Garfield, G. (2005). Knowing What We Know: African American Women’s Experiences of Violence and Violation. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Gilroy, P. (2000). Between Camps: Nations, Cultures and the Allure of Race. London: Penguin Press.Google Scholar
  30. Hammonds, E. (1997). Towards a Genealogy of Black Female Sexuality: The Problematic of Silence. In J. Alexander & C. Mohanty (Eds.), Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures (pp. 93–104). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  31. Hammonds, E. (2002). Black (W)holes and the Geometry of Black Female Subjectivity. In K. Wallace-Saunders (Ed.), Skin Deep, Spirit Strong: The Black Female Body in American Culture (pp. 301–320). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  32. Herman, J., & Hirschman, L. (2005). Father-Daughter Incest. In Berger, Edelson, & Renzetti.Google Scholar
  33. Hill Collins, P. (1990). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. London: Unwin Hyman.Google Scholar
  34. Hill Collins, P. (1998). Fighting Words: Black Women and the Search for Justice. Minnesota: Minnesota University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Hill Collins, P. (2009). Piecing Together a Genealogical Puzzle: Intersectionality and American Pragmatism. European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy, 3, 88–112.Google Scholar
  36. Hochschild, A. (1983). The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  37. hooks, b. (1981). Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. Boston: South End Press.Google Scholar
  38. Jackson, L., & Greene, B. (Eds.). (2000). Psychotherapy with African American Women: Innovations in Psychodynamic Perspectives and Practice. New York: Guildford Press.Google Scholar
  39. James, J. (1999). Shadowboxing: Representations of Black Feminist Politics. New York: St Martin’s Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Jeremiah, R., Quinn, C., & Alexis, J. (2017). Exposing the Culture of Silence: Inhibiting Factors in the Prevention, Treatment, and Mitigation of Sexual Abuse in the Eastern Caribbean. Child Abuse & Neglect, 66, 53–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Jones, C., & Shorter-Gooden, K. (2003). Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America. New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  42. Jordan, J. (2008). Serial Survivors: Women’s Narratives of Surviving Rape. Annandale: Federation Press.Google Scholar
  43. Jordan, J. (2012). Silencing Rape, Silencing Women. In J. M. Brown & S. Walklate (Eds.), Handbook on Sexual Violence (pp. 253–286).Google Scholar
  44. Joseph, G. (1993). Black Mothers and Daughters: Traditional and New Perspectives. In P. Bell-Scott, B. R. Guy-Sheftall, J. Sims-Wood, M. DeCosta-Willis, & L. Fultz (Eds.), Double Stitch: Black Women Write About Mothers and Daughters (pp. 94–108). New York: Harper Perennial.Google Scholar
  45. Kalathil, J., Collier, B., Bhakta, R., Daniel, O. J., & Trivedi, P. (2011). Recovery and Resilience: African, African-Caribbean and South Asian Women’s Recovery from Mental Illness. London: Mental Health Foundation.Google Scholar
  46. Kanyeredzi, A. (2013). Finding a Voice: African and Caribbean Heritage Women Help Seeking. In Y. Rehman, L. Kelly, & H. Siddiqui (Eds.), Moving in the Shadows: Violence in the Lives of Minority Women and Children (pp. 205–224). Surrey: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  47. Lamb, S. (Ed.). (1999). New Versions of Victims: Feminists Struggle with the Concept. New York/London: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Lorde, A. (1980). The Cancer Journals. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books.Google Scholar
  49. Lorde, A. (1984). Sister Outsider. Trumansberg/New York: Crossings Press.Google Scholar
  50. Lorde, A. (1995). Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference. In B. Cole-Sheftall (Ed.), Words of Fire: Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought (pp. 284–291). New York: The New Press.Google Scholar
  51. Lucea, M., Stockman, J., Mana-Ay, M., Bertrand, D., Callwood, G., Coverston, C., et al. (2013). Factors Influencing Resource Use by African American and African Caribbean Women Disclosing Intimate Partner Violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 28(8), 1617–1641.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  52. Mama, A. (2000). Violence Against Black Women in the Home. In J. Hanmer & C. Itzin (Eds.), Home Truths About Domestic Violence: Feminist Influences on Policy and Practice, A Reader (pp. 44–56). London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  53. McRobbie, A. (2009). The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  54. Morrison, K. E., Luchok, J. K., Richter, D. L., & Parra-Medina, D. (2006). Factors Influencing Help-Seeking from Informal Networks Among African American Victims of Intimate Partner Violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 21(11), 1493–1511.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Noble, D. (2016). Standing in the Bigness of Who I Am: Lack Caribbean Women and the Paradoxes of Freedom. In D. Noble (Ed.), Decolonizing and Feminizing Freedom: A Caribbean Genealogy (pp. 101–157). London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Phoenix, A. (2011). Re-narrating Feminist Stories: Black Women and Transatlantic feminisms. In K. Davis & M. Evans (Eds.), Transatlantic Conversations: Feminism as Travelling Theory (pp. 55–67). Surrey: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  57. Pierce-Baker, C. (2000). Surviving the Silence: Black Women’s Stories of Rape. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  58. Potter, H. (2008). Battle Cries: Black Women and Intimate Partner Abuse. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Reavey, P. (2010). Spatial Markings: Memory, Agency and Child Sexual Abuse. Memory Studies, 3(4), 314–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Reavey, P., & Brown, S. (2009). The Mediating Role of Objects in Recollections of Adult Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. Culture & Psychology, 15(4), 463–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Reynolds, T. (1997). (Mis)representing the Black Superwoman. In H. Mirza (Ed.), Black British Feminism: A Reader (pp. 97–112). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  62. Richie, B. (1996). Compelled to Crime: The Gender Entrapment of Battered Black Women. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  63. Romero, R. (2000). The Icon of the Strong Black Woman: The Paradox of Strength. In L. Jackson & B. Greene (Eds.), Psychotherapy with African American Women: Innovations in Psychodynamic Perspectives and Practice (pp. 225–238). New York: Guildford Press.Google Scholar
  64. Scharff, C. (2010). Silencing Differences: The ‘Unspoken’ Dimensions of ‘Speaking for Others’. In R. Ryan-Flood & R. Gill (Eds.), Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections (pp. 83–95). London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  65. Serrant-Green, L. (2011). The Sound of ‘Silence’: A Framework for Researching Sensitive Issues or Marginalised Perspectives in Health. Journal of Research in Nursing, 16(4), 347–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Spence, J., & Holland, P. (1991). In J. Spence & P. Holland (Eds.), Family Snaps: The Meaning of Domestic Photography. London: Virago.Google Scholar
  67. Stone, M. (2002). Black Woman Walking: A Different Experience of World Travel. Lancaster: BeaGay Publications.Google Scholar
  68. Taussig, M. (2004). Terror as Usual: Walter Benjamin’s Theory of History as State of Siege. In N. Scheper-Hughes & P. Bourgois (Eds.).Google Scholar
  69. Tucker Green, D. (2003). Born Bad. London: Nick Hearn Books.Google Scholar
  70. Tyagi, S. (2001). Incest and Women of Color: A Study of Experiences and Disclosure. Journal of Sexual Abuse, 10, 17–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Ullman, S., & Filipas, H. (2001). Correlates of Formal and Informal Support Seeking in Sexual Assault Victims. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 16, 1028–1047.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Washington, P. (2001). Disclosure Patterns of Black Female Sexual Assault Survivors. Violence Against Women, 7, 1254–1283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Watson, N., & Hunter, C. (2016). ‘I Had to Be Strong’: Tensions in the Strong Black Woman Schema. Journal of Black Psychology, 42(5), 424–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. West, L., Donovan, R., & Daniel, A. (2016). The Price of Strength: Black College Women’s Perspectives on the Strong Black Woman Stereotype. Women & Therapy, 39(3–4), 390–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Wilson, M. (1993). Crossing the Boundary: Black Women Survive Incest. London: Virago Press.Google Scholar
  76. Wyatt, G. E. (1992). The Sociocultural Context of African American and White American Rape. Journal of Social Issues, 48, 77–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ava Kanyeredzi
    • 1
  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of East LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations