Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2016

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

Afifi, Tamara D

First Committee Member

High, Andrew

Second Committee Member

Fixmer-Oraiz, Natalie

Third Committee Member

Havens, Timothy

Fourth Committee Member

Buch, Elana


The strong Black woman ideal is a long-established image in U.S. society pressuring Black women to maintain a facade of strength at all times. The strength ideal is internalized as an integral aspect of their identity, so much so that Black women socialize each other to habituate behaviors reflecting strength. The Strong Black Woman Collective Theory (SBWC; Davis, 2015a) posits that Black women re-appropriate the strong Black woman image and use certain communication behaviors to affirm strength in each other. By exhibiting these behaviors, they delineate a safe space to promote solidarity within the group and confront oppressors collectively.

This new theory needs to be corroborated with empirical data to examine how the theoretical tenets are actualized in a real-world communication context. To this end, the present study conducts a partial test of the SBWC theory by observing Black women friend groups engage in supportive discussions about racial discrimination. This is an ideal context to test the SBWC theory because the friends are gathering together as a group of same race-gendered persons; they are discussing the wrongdoing of an identifiable external hostility that they are motivated to retreat from and confront; and strength gets reified as a form of support during the conversation. The study advances a path model to represent the empirical associations among four key variables: strength regulation, group identification and solidarity, verbal confrontation, and relational quality with the out-group member. Fifty-two Black women friends groups (three in each) aged 18-89 years were sampled but only the data from the support seeker were used for analyses (n = 52). All data were collected in the home of one of the participants as a way to observe the supportive conversation in a safe, naturalistic environment. Structural Equation Modeling was used to test the Strong Black Woman Collective path model. The findings revealed that strength regulation was positively associated with group identification/solidarity, such that women felt more connected to the group when strength was regulated and reinforced. Also verbal derogation was inversely associated with relational satisfaction with the White woman aggressor. That is, support seekers reported lower levels of relational satisfaction with the White woman after she was verbally derogated during the discussion. The results also showed that strength regulation was positively correlated with verbal derogation, even though the relationship was approaching significance. Finally, verbal derogation had a very weak and nonsignificant association with group identification/solidarity.

Findings from this study demonstrate that strength is functional in the context of Black women’s communication spaces and has important implications for their relationships with in-group affiliates and outsiders. The conclusion of this dissertation discusses the implications of these findings in relation to future articulations of the SBWC theory, extent research in Feminist Studies and Communication, and Black women’s day-to-day encounters with discrimination.


Black women, female friendship, groups, racial microaggression, social support, strong Black woman


xi, 210 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 140-172).


Copyright 2016 Shardé Marie Davis

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Communication Commons