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Unheard in Literature

Unheard in Literature

Looking Into Black Women’s Views on Resilience 

By Emmett Pennington-Guthrie 

Current literature on the concept of resilience is remarkably devoid of Black women’s perspectives, which is the motivation for Walla Walla University professor of social work Laurellé Warner’s research. [1] 

Warner, who is also the Masters of Social Work (MSW) program director for WWU at the Missoula campus, is currently conducting research on resilience emphasizing Black women’s perspectives on the topic. 

It is especially important to understand Black women’s perspectives, Warner noted, because “which group is more qualified than Black women to talk about the meaning of resilience, its nature and its processes, given both the historical and contemporary experiences that they have?” [2] 

In Warner’s study, her participants found two conceptual components of resilience: internal and external. 

External resilience, as Warner explained it, is the part which can be seen and involves being engaged in life, “fulfilling your roles and responsibilities.” [3] 

The example Warner gave of this is that if someone experienced a death, their external resilience would mean them continuing to go to work, taking care of their family, and fulfilling the tasks necessary in dealing with their loss such as planning a funeral. 

Moving forward in the face of adversity without becoming immobilized is the key to external resilience, with Warner emphasizing that this includes moving forward even while in pain, even if the forward movement is slow. 

“Resilience for Black women is all about doing, so on the outside is doing, performing, and accomplishing, and on the inside is thinking, remembering, believing, and knowing.” [4] 

This leads to the second conceptual component, internal resilience, which Warner defined as “not succumbing to what’s happening outside of you that may be causing the pain, the hardship, and the difficulties.” [5] 

The internal mental processes do not happen on a set time frame, instead there are three sources in which it occurs, all which center around types of communication. 

The first of these sources is intrapersonal communication, meaning the thoughts that someone would have in communication with oneself. This source has three stages which progress without a given timeframe. 

First, thoughts will be imperative “I have to do this,” then shift to the declarative “I am getting things done,” and lastly the affirmational thoughts “I am okay.” [6] 

The next two sources are forms of interpersonal communication, or speaking with others. This involves communication with important people in one’s life and communication with the divine. 

Communication with important people can mean family, friends, and close colleagues.  

In Warner’s study, therapists were sometimes identified as people under this category, however Warner found that Black women and especially older Black women do not tend to use therapists, which she explained is a caused by both historical precedents of therapists lacking understanding of Black women’s perspectives and a simple lack of Black therapists being accessible and available. 

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Communication with the divine was identified by Warner as important too because she found that having conversations with God was helpful for getting through difficult times. 

Warner also found that there is a difference in how resilience is perceived to exist by Black women compared to the more Eurocentric view. 

Warner shared a story from an interview in which she asked one woman who had experienced divorce about how she would know that resilience had occurred, and what the outcomes would be. The woman’s response was to point out that her question “presupposes that trauma ends.” [7] 

“I am divorced now and unless I remarry, I will always have this experience of divorce that will shift and change my life.” [8] 

Resilience, then, is an ongoing process without an end. 


1. Interview with Laurellé Warner, 2/17/2022. 

2-8. Ibid

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