KNOXVILLE, Tenn.–New research suggests that African-American women in the South are often empowered by their anger rather than defeated by it.
Dr. Sandra Thomas of the College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville said her study is the first documented research on anger in African-American women. Thomas will present her findings at the American Psychological Association annual meeting in Chicago Aug. 15-19.
Thomas has conducted a large scale, ongoing empirical study on women and anger since 1989. Her initial findings were published in her book “Women and Anger” in 1993.
“Unlike Caucasian women, who had received messages while growing up that anger was unfeminine and unladylike, African-American women had learned that anger conferred power and could be deliberately used to gain or maintain control of situations,” Thomas said.
In a series of in-depth interviews, Thomas and her team found that racism is a significant context for anger in African-American women.
“It’s disturbing. You’d like to think things are getting better, but it doesn’t seem that they are. An effect of racism in the lives of African-American women is an ever-present mistrust which is figural in the women’s experiences of anger,” she said.
“One woman in the study put it this way: ‘Caucasians smile in your face, stab you in the back. Those you think you know, you don’t know.”
Against this background, power, control and respect emerged as dominant themes in the interviews, Thomas said. But while the majority of the Caucasian women in the earlier study described feelings of powerlessness in anger, African-American women saw anger as a source of power.
“In some ways, African-American women are healthier in their approach to anger. They are able to use it to fight, to achieve, to be recognized,” she said.
One woman in the study told of a teacher who had tried to discourage her from completing nursing school. The anger she felt fueled her resolve to make top grades.
The study also found that African-American women, like their white counterparts, experienced great difficulty in managing anger at men. Whether the anger is repressed or vented, women do not feel that their anger is effective in changing men’s behavior.
Thomas said research indicates that mismanaged anger has serious health implications for women, including the risk of high blood pressure and depression.
Contact: Contact: Dr. Sandra Thomas: (423-671-2213)