Listening Past the Lies that Make Us Sick: A Voice-Centered Analysis of Strength and Depression among Black Women

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Abstract

An emerging feminist paradigm likens depression to silencing, as women disconnect from important aspects of their realities in an attempt to meet cultural standards of feminine goodness. While offering a provocative re-evaluation of hegemonic feminine norms and depressive episodes, little in this literature explores connections between silencing and depression within other, non-white constructions of feminine goodness. Employing a voice-centered method that illuminates areas of conflict between cultural scripts and individual meaning making, I forward that being strong is both the depiction of Black feminine goodness and an important contributor to depressive episodes. Drawing on interview data from a nonclinical sample of 58 Black women, I illustrate three depression-relevant aspects of Black women's gendered experiences: the promotion of their stoicism, silence, and selflessness through the prevailing discourse of the “strong Black woman”; the active suppression of discourse-discrepant realities which the women associate with depressive experiences; and the psychological healing attendant on supplanting this discourse with experience-based knowledge of their social realities. Voice-centeredness, I conclude, brings a needed sensitivity to depression as a racialized and gendered experience of distress tied to the normative conditions of Black women's lives.

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