African-American Women Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2452 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Black Studies

African-American Women

Oppression, Diversity and the Struggle for Human Rights: African-American Women

The history of African-American women is closely aligned to the history of social and racial oppression in America.

Significantly, the history of this group is linked strongly to the development of the movement in this country against inequality and for civil rights. The history of the African-American women is also intimately bound up with the history and after effects of slavery.

The Black people in the United States are historically composed of various ethnic groups. During the Atlantic slave trade " Over 40 identifiable ethnic groups from at least 25 different kingdoms were sold to British North America... " (African-American) From the very beginning therefore the history of the Black people and particularly African-American women have been one of suffering and oppression. This fact has influenced the various issues that relate to social work and sociology that are experienced by African-American women today.

2. Aspects of culture and tradition

The early history of this group was obviously influenced in a cultural sense by their African heritage.

As time past these cultural aspects began to diminish or were altered in relation to the dominant white culture of the time. However the African-American culture has retained elements that make it a distinctive culture within the American national milieu. This is evidenced by many studies which show that there are particular features and characteristics of early Black American culture which are still prevalent today. "While African-American families share many features with other U.S. families, the African-American family has some distinctive features relating to the timing and approaches of marriage and family formation, gender roles, parenting styles, and strategies for coping with adversity." (African-American)

These cultural differences are important factors in understanding the particular stresses and strains in the situation of the African-American women; which includes differences in gender roles as well as in the concept and structure of the family.

While it would be incorrect to generalize it can be said with a fair amount of accuracy that there are differences that must be taken into account especially in the social work context.

For instance, the importance of the extended family in African-American culture has an impact and social significance that is crucial to the understanding of the particular situation of African-American women. However static generalizations and cultural stereotyping have been shown to present an erroneous picture of the situation and must be guarded against. " studies have found that African-American families display about 70 various structural formations, versus about 40 among white families. This comparison points to the variability of the African-American family structure and to the flexibility of family roles." (African-American)

Other aspects that are of relevance in terms of the situation of the African-American women are that African-American families tend to be structured in a more hierarchical manner and are"... more likely to be strict, to hold demanding behavioral standards, and to use physical discipline" (African-American)

Families, as well as religion, are extremely important in the overall cultural makeup of African-American culture. "The family and the church have been the most important institutions in African-American families and communities since slavery." (Ruiz D.S.)

There is also a strong reliance on the stability and strength of the woman in the African-American family structure and she often plays a leading role in terms of moral and behavioral standards. The structure of the extended family is shown in the way that grandmothers often take over the running of the family and children in case where the mother is unable to do so. "When mothers cannot fulfill their roles, grandmothers often step in to parent children. In 1998, 1.4 million African-American children (12%) lived in their grandparents' home...' (African-American)

Another study states that, "Their role responsibilities, especially in the extended family context, are broad and elastic. They have performed crucial roles in the care and welfare of grandchildren, great-grandchildren, fictive kin, and others who may or may not be related by birth. (Ruiz D.S.)

Cultural studies also indicate a strong emphasis on spiritual aspects as well as an awareness of ethnic identity.

Various African-American cultural organizations, such as the various churches, also play an important part in offering spiritual as well as practical and instrumental support.

Social work aspects

The focus on African-American women with regard to social work issues is both on their particular position within their own culture and the way that they relate to the larger national culture. For example, it has been found that this group is still largely disenfranchised and discriminated against. While this was to a certain extent to be expected in the past and before the advent of the civil rights movement, yet this is still a cardinal aspect in contemporary America. This factor is shown in numerous qualitative and quantitative studies. According to the Catalyst survey, Advancing African-American Women in the Workplace, "African-American women are not advancing as far in corporate America as their white, Asian, and Latina counterparts. The biggest barriers they face are negative, race-based stereotypes; more frequent questioning of their credibility and authority; and a lack of institutional support..." (Brown, 2004, p. 46)

If one bears in mind the consequences of social oppression and discrimination it immediately become obvious why this group is of necessity an important area of concern for social work. In terms of their often negative position in the society, it follows that they will experience a range of unique and serious issues that will have to be addressed by the social worker.

Some of the factors and the problems that the social worker should be aware of when dealing with this partial group includes the following: domestic violence and partner abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction, depression and related psychological issues as well as a range of physical ailments which are particularly relevant to this group. These include, heart disease, sickle cell disease, breast cancer, diabetes, HIV and AIDS, (African-American Women's Health and Social Issues) Underlying and exacerbating all do these aspects is the pervasive effect of racial oppression and prejudice.

One of the important reasons why social work within the African-American community is so necessary is that African-American women are seen to be a group that is at high risk from both physically debilitating factors as well as social environmental problem issues. "African-American women are a population at high risk for early development of chronic debilitating illnesses that are due, not only to genetic and intrapsychic factors, but to stresses in their environment that continue to implicate racial discrimination." (Vaz, 2003, p 14)

Studies also show that social work intervention is an important issue for this group in that there is a record of African-American women delaying and even refusing medical and health assistance until a critical point is reached. (Vaz, 2003, p. 14)

The reason for this is that they have a fear of hospitals which is also related to fear of prejudice and discrimination. This fear and awareness of discrimination also has resultant psychological implications for these women and there has been a reported under - diagnosis of illnesses such as depression among African-American women. (Vaz, 2003, p. 14)

Another reason that can be given for more social work focus on this group is the fact that there is a comparatively high rate of arrests and incarceration of African-American women. Jacobs (2004) states that in New York it was found that 53% of women who were incarcerated in state prison were African-American. (Jacobs, 2004, p.795) This is indicative of the underlying social as well as domestic problem that this group faces.

Among the many other social and health issues that characterize this group are drug and alcohol abuse and dependency. Studies have found that there is a relatively high rate of drug and alcohol abuse among African-American, which can be ascribed to factors such as feelings of oppression and social discrimination. (Washington & Moxley, 2003, p.146) as one study clearly states, among the factors that influence drug and alcohol use in this group are"...sociodemographic status, race and ethnicity, interpersonal relationships, and life events....(Lucas, Goldschmidt & Day, 2003, p. 273) Studies also reiterate these points with regard to prenatal alcohol abuse. " Ethnicity and race have been identified as significant correlates of prenatal alcohol use. One study found that that "...African-American women were more likely to continue to drink throughout pregnancy than were white women." (Lucas, Goldschmidt & Day, 2003, p. 273)

Domestic and partner violence are also aspects that require attention from social workers. Research has shown that African-American women are subjected to this form of abuse more than other groups and that this is related in many instances to socioeconomic issues, which are linked to race and social status. A study by Thompson (2000) indicates that "...partner violence was related to lower perceived social support and greater psychological distress, and lower social support was related to more distress." Furthermore, "... findings point to the need for service providers to screen for partner violence in nontraditional sites, such as hospital emergency rooms, and to address the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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