Sunday, August 23, 2009

Black women should lighten up? On health, optimism and bias

I have a new post up at Global Comment.

Black femininity falls squarely into three social constructions: jezebel, mammy and sapphire. Each construction is meant to discipline Black women into subservience and marginalization. Socially, Black women occupy the bottom of both the race and gender hierarchies. Author bell hooks posits that this is because we have no institutionalized “other.”

Race is a social construction created chiefly to benefit Whiteness. Many would love to believe that some of the public gains which African-Americans achieved have lead to a post-racial world, but the stereotypes that have been created continue to infiltrate our social organizations. From the media to education, Blackness is still understood as inferior in our social discourse, despite the rhetoric of individuality and meritocracy.

Meanwhile, the following results were discovered by the researchers at the University of Pittsburgh in a study of postmenopausal women:

“Optimism was defined as the expectation that good, rather than bad, things will happen. Female optimists in the group surveyed had a decreased rate of death and were 30 percent less likely to die from coronary heart disease than were pessimists. Those identified as being more cynically hostile had a higher rate of death and were 23 percent more likely to die from a cancer-related condition.”

Interestingly, results for optimism and cynical hostility appeared more pronounced in the almost 8,000 Black women surveyed. Optimistic Black women had a lower rate of death and a 44% reduction in risk of cancer-related death. Alternatively, the most cynically hostile Black women had a higher rate of death and a 142% increase in risk of cancer-related death. Tindle notes these results need to be interpreted with caution, due to the low number of Black women actually surveyed.

It is quite interesting that the word “hostile” was chosen, because Black women are constantly accused of being angry. Even though hostility and anger is a more than a valid response to the sexism and racism that Black women are forced to deal with, it is understood in this context as un-womanly. Such a charge is often used to silence legitimate concerns and force conformity to the racist, sexist state. We have seen the angry Black woman meme thrown at women like Michelle Obama without any justification. Each and every time a Black woman dares to challenge her place, she is declared an angry upstart.

Is it any surprise that a study would conclude that Black women who are more optimistic by nature ultimately live longer lives? Now, not only are we being charged with un-womanly behaviour when we protest institutionalized racism and sexism; death is being offered up as the ultimate form of discipline.

Finish Reading Here:

Editors Note:  I am still having issues with links and therefore all links must be clicked on from the front page.