Tough or Tender: (Dis)Similarities in White College Students' Perceptions of Black and White Women



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Although intersectional theory and empirical evidence suggest that race impacts how women are perceived, there is a dearth of research on how the dominant culture stereotypes Black women compared to White women. The current study addresses this gap using an intersectional framework to investigate White college students' stereotypes of Black and White women. How these stereotypes fit with stereotypic images found in theoretical/empirical literature was also examined. Analyses of data from 109 White college students revealed that Black women were perceived in ways consistent with the Matriarch/Sapphire stereotypic image (e.g., strong and domineering). This image stands in contrast to current and previous perceptions of (White) women as affective and communal. The impact of the Matriarch/Sapphire image on Black women is likely mixed. Internalizing the strength aspect of the Matriarch/Sapphire could help Black women cope with the negative effects of racism, sexism, and classism. Conversely, being perceived as innately strong and domineering could increase the blame attributed to Black women who are survivors of sexual assault and/or domestic violence, limiting avenues of support and justice available to these women. It could also lead to a minimization of Black women's mental and physical health problems. Interventions that educate professionals about the Matriarch/Sapphire image could help reduce its negative impact.