“Two things make a black woman have a lower suicide rate,” Sophia Nelson, the author of Black Woman Redefined, told theGrio. One of the main sources of strength for African-American women according to the MSNBC analyst is a long-standing tradition of deep religiousness. “Black women are considered the most loyal faith-based group in the country. It’s really black women’s coping mechanism. Black people go to church at the highest rate in this country, black women being the largest portion of that group.”
Nelson believes that black women’s faith leads them to find solace in their spirituality, rather than considering suicide. An African-American woman is more likely to turn over her problems to a higher power — God. “Black women always feel like we can go to the church,” Nelson, a frequent contributor to theGrio, noted.
Her perspective is supported by the research of New York University professor Jacqueline Mattis. Mattis’ article Religion and Spirituality in the Meaning-Making and Coping Experience of African American Women is extensively quoted in Black Woman Redefined to illuminate how the power of prayer is part of an arsenal of skills black women maintain for enduring treacherous circumstances. Mattis states that “the most consistent finding regarding the coping experiences of African American women is that religion and spirituality hold central places in these women’s coping repertoires.”
At the same time, “research suggests that in their efforts to cope with life’s challenges, African American women employ a myriad of strategies, including humor, revenge, and the advice of other black women in their social networks,” Mattis elaborates.
“We are always there for each other,” Nelson concurred to theGrio. “As much as black women can tear each other down, we also always have each others’ back.”
The second component that leads to lower suicide rates for black women? Nelson believes it is our proverbial “strength” — but that we did not develop into a nation of “strong black women” overnight.
“The strength of black women harkens back to slavery, but that strength is not just physical — it’s also spiritual. It has evolved,” the expert on the black female experience explained. “We have been through slavery, Jim Crow, and suffered the social injuries of being both black and female. I would argue that black women, because of the horror we have endured — that puts you in a very unique situation. Their strength and their spirituality is what saved them — because of their history. It’s kind of like being a marathon runner. You build up your endurance over time.”
It is possible that the qualities that Kemp admires about black women’s culture of support can be taught to prevent military suicides. Openness and close social networking might be augmented with encouraging spirituality for soldiers under intense psychological stress. But, re-creating the emotional strategies honed from centuries of fighting social oppression through interpersonal relating might prove tougher to replicate. Still, this news is heartening.
In a society in which most studies involving African-American females generate endless reports that are resoundingly negative, the idea that black women might be examined as a source of solutions shows that this group is one step closer to experiencing warm, public appreciation — instead of depreciation through negative stereotypes.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stoghill on Twitter at @lexisb.