Young black women whose families are white or biracial or who come from wealthier black families tend to feel disconnected from the tight-knit culture found among other black females, according to a new study published in the journal Gender Issues.
In fact, a tense relationship often exists between poorer black women and their more affluent counterparts, with those in the middle and upper classes often feeling like shunned “stepsisters.”
These young middle- or upper-class black women often feel “different” or even isolated. For those with a white parent or family, their connection to the white community alienates them even further from other young black women.
The study was based on 25 in-depth interviews with middle- to upper-class black female college or university students between the ages of 18 and 25 years old. Participants were either raised in a monoracial family with two black parents, a biracial family with one white and one black parent, or were adopted into a transracial family by white parents.
More than any other issue, the young women all spoke most passionately about their difficult relationships with other black women.
“They rarely mentioned white women, while they described other black girls as generally negative, and anything from alienating or terrorizing,” said researcher Dr. Colleen Butler-Sweet of Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. She added that many interviewees have experienced this tension since high school.
According to the study participants, young black women of lower classes often accused them of “acting white” or not “being black enough,” looking too pretty or not being pretty enough. They were also accused of receiving too much attention from black men in particular.
Young black women from wealthier families tend to feel under pressure to look beautiful by white standards and also feel they must compete with both black and white women for the attention of the same small pool of eligible young black men.
Most of the young women kept their conflicts with other black women to themselves. They were also hesitant to attribute these tensions to differences in social class, despite acknowledging that such differences did exist.
“While social class was not directly referenced in any of the accusations, the detractors were almost always of a lower socioeconomic status than the informants themselves,” Butler-Sweet said. “The issue of class is ‘an invisible force’ in these encounters.”
Young middle-class women with one or two white parents tended to rationalize and explain these tense relationships in terms of the family structure. For example, those adopted into white families frequently talked about how their white parents did not know much about African-American hair and skincare, and how it left them feeling silly at school where they were teased.
“Women from monoracial families do not share this ‘benefit’ of explanation, and essentially do not have a place to put the criticisms they face or a way by which to explain them away,” said Butler-Sweet. “They therefore may suffer a greater sense of anxiety and stand a greater risk of internalizing their struggles.”