The Intersection of Gender and Ethnicity

The Psychology of Women and Gender: Half the Human Experience + - Nicole M. Else-Quest, Janet Shibley Hyde 2018

The Intersection of Gender and Ethnicity

On January 21, 2017, 4.2 million people gathered for the Women’s March on Washington and over 600 other “sister marches” throughout the United States. Hundreds of thousands more marched in countries across all seven continents. The Women’s Marches were a response to the 2016 U.S. presidential election: The first female major party candidate for president, Hillary Rodham Clinton, won the popular vote, but a man widely criticized as sexist and racist, Donald J. Trump, won the required 270 electoral college delegates. The aims of the Women’s Marches were explicitly feminist, yet not intially intersectional; at first, organizers did not fully consider the intersection of gender and ethnicity. When the perspectives of women of color and women from other intersectional locations (e.g., trans and queer persons) were incorporated into the platform, the marches became a powerful expression of their shared purpose and desire for gender equality.

At the intersection of gender and ethnicity, it is easy to see how people of diverse gender and ethnic groups may have very different experiences and yet have much in common. White women and women of color both encounter sexism. For White women, that sexism may be buffered by White privilege. For women of color, the combination of racism and sexism may result in double jeopardy. Meanwhile, for trans persons of color, sexism and cisgenderism may interact with racism. For example, trans people of color are disproportionately the target of hate violence (Waters et al., 2016).

When we study people of diverse racial and ethnic origins in the United States, it quickly becomes apparent that the different and complex social forces acting on them may result in diverse patterns of experiences. Among these forces are higher rates of poverty, discrimination, variations in family structures, identification with ethnic liberation movements, and evaluation of appearance by White standards of beauty.

Yet, before we dig into those diverse patterns of experiences, we must confront a serious problem in our field: Much of the scholarship on “the psychology of women” has been a psychology of White, middle-class, American cisgender women. Although many researchers have made great progress on this front, much work remains. Psychology has an important role to play in describing, explaining, and optimizing the experiences of all people, especially members of marginalized groups.

In this chapter we focus primarily on women and trans people in four major U.S. ethnic groups: African Americans, Latinx, Asian Americans, and American Indians. The purpose of the chapter is to provide important background information about the cultures and heritages of these ethnic groups as well as an overview of gender roles in these cultures. This background and overview will provide the context for more specific discussions of research on women and trans people of color that occur in other chapters throughout the book.

Recurring Themes

Two key themes recur throughout this chapter. The first theme, which stems from intersectionality, is of similarities and differences (Cole, 2009). That is, as the intersectional perspective suggests, women of diverse ethnic groups will be similar in some ways and different in others because both gender and ethnicity are influential. They share some common experiences (like objectification), despite having other unique experiences (such as different media representations and stereotypes). We will see that there are some profound differences, some resulting from differences in culture in the land of origin, others resulting from the greater poverty and discrimination experienced by members of some ethnic groups. Thus, the experience of their gender depends, in part, on their ethnicity.

The second recurring theme in this chapter is simultaneous oppression and strength. Women of color have a heritage of oppression, including slavery for African American women and internment in U.S. prison camps during World War II for Japanese American women. Current oppression, in the forms of racism, sexism, and gendered racism, persists. And it remains dangerous for many trans people of color to be open about their identities.

Gendered racism: A form of oppression and bias based simultaneously on both gender and race/ethnicity.

Yet, in the midst of this oppression, it would be a mistake to regard these individuals merely as victims. Instead, one sees enormous strength and resilience in them and in their lives. For example, research finds that trans people of color, despite experiencing oppression based on their race/ethnicity and gender identity and nonconformity, demonstrate tremendous resilience (Singh, 2013; Singh & McKleroy, 2011). Factors such as feeling pride in one’s identity, recognizing oppression, and developing strong relationships within their families and communities promote resilience in the face of oppression. Thus, strength and resilience in the face of oppression is another continuing theme.

Ethnic Group Labels

Before we proceed, we need a brief discussion of terminology. The term Hispanic refers to all people with some Spanish heritage or a historical link to Spain (including those from countries once colonized by Spain), such as people from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, and other Caribbean, Central American, and South American countries or cultures. The label was introduced by the U.S. government in the 1970 census. Latinos refers to Latin Americans, including Brazilians (who would not be classified as Hispanic because they were colonized by Portugal, not Spain). Whereas Latina refers to female Latin Americans, the term Latino refers both to all Latinos and to male Latin Americans. Thus, the term Latino is an example of the familiar problem of masculine generics and the male as normative in language (discussed in Chapter 5).

Hispanic: People of Spanish descent, whether from Mexico, Puerto Rico, or elsewhere.

Latinos: Latin American people; also refers specifically to Latin American men.

Latina: A Latin American girl or woman.

Photo 4.1 Trans women of color, such as Janet Mock, demonstrate tremendous resilience in the face of multiple forms of discrimination.


Benjo Arwas/Getty Images Portrait/Getty Images.

In recent years, efforts to avoid the male-as-normative problem and be more inclusive of gender diversity have led to adoption of terms such as Latin@, which is visually inclusive of both the masculine and feminine forms. Similarly, Latinx (pronounced La-TEEN-ex), which is not marked by gender, has become increasingly popular (though not without controversy). More than half of Americans who would be classified as Hispanic on the U.S. Census prefer labels that reference their country of origin, such as Dominican or Cuban (Taylor et al., 2012). While Latina/o is an umbrella term that includes these diverse ethnic subgroups, it excludes individuals outside the gender binary. Therefore, we will use Latinx, an umbrella term that is more inclusive of gender diversity. We also use the term Hispanic when appropriate.

Latinx: A Latin American person, unmarked by gender.

For Americans of African origin, language has steadily evolved. Negro was the respectful term prior to the 1960s. Then, with the emergence of the Black Power movement, activists urged the use of the term Black to connote pride in the very qualities that were the basis of discrimination, promoting slogans such as “Black Is Beautiful.” In the late 1980s, as ties to Africa and pride in one’s heritage were increasingly emphasized, we saw a shift to the term African American. The relative merit of the terms Black and African American has been debated (Swarns, 2004), so we will use both.

African Americans: Americans of African descent.

Similarly, there is controversy about the terms American Indian and Native American. Over half of U.S. Census respondents who identified as American Indian said they preferred American Indian or Alaskan Native to Native American (Tucker et al., 1995), so we will use American Indian here. While some argue that the term Indian reflects a geographical miscalculation, others contend that Native American excludes indigenous peoples (i.e., the original or native people of a region) from other countries in North and South America. In Canada, the indigenous peoples include the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples.

American Indians: The indigenous peoples of North America. Also called Native Americans.

For Americans of Asian origin, Asian Americans is the preferred term, replacing various slang or older terms that are now considered disrespectful (e.g., Orientals). People from the Indian subcontinent are usually considered Asian American as well. Often, people of Asian heritage are grouped with people of Pacific Islander heritage (e.g., Native Hawaiians and those from the Philippines, Guam, and Fiji) as Asian and Pacific Islander (or API). We’ll generally use Asian American with the understanding that it includes Pacific Islanders.

Asian Americans: Americans of Asian descent.

The terms White and Caucasian are sometimes used interchangeably to refer to light-skinned people. These terms, however, are problematic. For example, Caucasian comes from the biological conceptualization of race (specifically the Caucasoid race), but also refers to people native to the Caucasus region between Europe and Asia. Also, many Hispanic Americans and people of Middle Eastern descent are light-skinned and might therefore be labeled as White, yet such people often do not experience life in the United States as White people. Moreover, many people exclude anyone who isn’t of European origin when they speak of White people. An alternative that has been proposed for White is European American (or Euro-American). It has the advantage of being parallel to other terms, such as Asian American and African American, and places the emphasis on the group’s cultural heritage rather than on skin color. Yet, in some situations, skin color is precisely the issue, as when people light in skin color are perceived more positively and may experience White privilege.

European American: White Americans of European descent; an alternative to the term Whites. Also, Euro-Americans.

Adding another layer of complexity, many Americans are biracial or multiracial. About 3% of Americans identify as being from two or more racial groups (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015). For example, singer Alicia Keys’s father is Black and her mother is White. Actress, producer, and author Rashida Jones’s father (the producer Quincy Jones) is Black and her mother (the actress Peggy Lipton) is of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage. These women’s appearances may not be good guides to their ethnic heritage. The experiences of multiracial people have become a focus of psychological research in recent years (Charmaraman et al., 2014; Landor & Halpern, 2016).

An Ethnic/Cultural Critique of Psychological Research

In Chapter 1 we discussed possible sources of gender bias in psychological research. Here we provide a parallel ethnic/cultural critique and discuss possible sources of race bias in psychological research (Jones, 2010; Landrine et al., 1995; Yoder & Kahn, 1993). There are several that warrant discussion.

The first issue has to do with the concept of race. Race—as it has been used in psychology over the last 100 years—is problematic (Betancourt & Lopez, 1993; Helms et al., 2005; Smedley & Smedley, 2005). Originally devised by White colonists, race was long considered a biological concept that referred to distinct and exclusive groups of people, each with a common set of physical features, such as skin color, hair texture and color, and so on (Smedley & Smedley, 2005). One of the problems with the concept of race is the assumption that racial groups are distinct and exclusive; in other words, that races are “pure” and that people have mated exclusively with other members of their race and not with members of other races. Yet people have long mated outside of their racial groups, which means the groups cannot possibly be distinct or exclusive. For example, in the case of a woman in the United States with very dark skin, 50% of her ancestors may be of African heritage and 50% of European heritage. The existence of people like her renders race as a biological concept useless.

Race: A socially constructed system of human classification, once considered a biological concept referring to discrete and exclusive groups of people with common physical features.

Photo 4.2 The experiences of multiracial people have become a focus of psychological research in recent years. Here, two multiracial women, actress and author Rashida Jones and singer Alicia Keys.


JB Lacroix/WireImage/Getty Images & NBC/NBC Universal/Getty Images.

Nonetheless, this woman may have grown up identifying as Black, may have been socialized within the culture of a Black community, and may be perceived and treated by others as Black. Today, we understand that race is socially constructed and not rooted in biology. Thus, terms like ethnicity and culture, which emphasize shared traits, are generally preferable to race. Shared traits are learned and transmitted socially, not rooted in biology. The term ethnic group refers to a group that shares a common culture, language, geographical origin, and so on. Ethnic groups are flexible and often self-defined.

Ethnic group: A group of people who share a common culture and language.

Another problem with race as a biological concept is that it promotes essentialism and denies the contextual factors that oppress people of color. That is, racial group differences in, say, educational achievement are considered an outcome of innate, biologically based differences in intelligence between racial groups, rather than an outcome of systemic racism. In turn, racism is perpetuated. If this pattern sounds familiar, it’s because a similar form of essentialism has long been used to perpetuate the oppression of women.

Second, just as men have been the norm in psychological research, so have European Americans been the norm (Jones, 2010). As one critic put it, “Even the rat was White” (Guthrie, 1976). Basing studies exclusively on samples of White college students or other samples of European Americans has been considered perfectly acceptable methodology. In part, this is just bad science. It involves making an unjustified inference from an all-White sample to all people. This is the error of overgeneralization (see Chapter 1). Moreover, the experiences of people of color are then marginalized and made invisible. The consequence is that Whites represent “people,” and everyone else becomes “subcultures” (Landrine et al., 1995). Similar criticisms have been made about researchers’ overreliance on samples from Western, industrialized, educated, and democratic countries, thereby ignoring a huge proportion of the world’s people (Henrich et al., 2010). The point is, if psychology is to be a science of all people, then the field needs to study people of diverse origins.

Third, psychological research has ignored the different meanings that may be attached to different words, gestures, and so on by people from different ethnic groups (Corral & Landrine, 2010). We learn the meanings of various words from the culture in which we grow up. Therefore, two different ethnic groups (for example, African Americans and European Americans) may have different understandings of the meanings of words even though both groups speak the same language (English). This language issue quickly becomes a radical critique of methods in psychological research, because it means that standardized tests, many of which were normed on White samples, may include words that are defined differently by people from other ethnic groups. As a result, the tests might be measuring different things across different ethnic groups.

To demonstrate this problem, a group of researchers administered the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI), which measures androgyny (see Chapter 3), to 71 White women and 67 women of color (Landrine et al., 1995). The women first rated themselves on each adjective and then chose, from among several choices, the phrase that best defined that term for them. Overall, there were no differences between the European American women and the women of color in their average scores on the BSRI—that is, there were ethnic group similarities. Yet there were major differences between the groups in how White women and women of color defined the adjectives on the BSRI. For example, for the term passive, White women most frequently chose the definition “am laid-back/easy-going,” whereas women of color most frequently chose “don’t say what I really think.” That is, these adjectives meant significantly different things to these two groups of women. Such findings imply that we need to go back to the very beginning with many psychological tests to determine how people from various ethnic groups understand the terms used in the tests.

A fourth criticism has to do with the possibility of observer effects (discussed in Chapter 1) and, namely, race bias in observations. In thinking about biased observations, it seems likely that there would be in-group favoritism, that is, that observers would give higher or more positive ratings to members of their own group. In one study, Black, White, and Latinx undergraduates rated videos of mother-child interactions (Harvey et al., 2009). The mother-child pairs were themselves either Black, White, or Latinx. For the most part, observers of different ethnicities rated the mother-child interactions similarly. However, Black and White raters differed in their ratings of Black and White children’s defiance. Members of each group rated children of their own group more positively. Overall, then, there were effects depending on the ethnicity of both the observer and the children, and they showed in-group favoritism. If psychological researchers are predominantly White, what are the implications for research on people of color?

A fifth criticism has to do with possible bias in interpretation of results. If European Americans are the norm, then the behaviors and experiences of people of color are interpreted as being deficient—much as we have seen in examples of female deficit models (Bryant-Davis & Comas-Díaz, 2016). Just as the latter bias is often called androcentrism, so the former bias can be called ethnocentrism or, more specifically, Eurocentrism. As an example of such bias, viewed through the eyes of White researchers, the African American family has generally been described as deficient.

Ethnocentrism: The tendency to regard one’s own ethnic group as superior to others and to believe that its customs and way of life are the standards by which other cultures should be judged.

Eurocentrism: The tendency to view the world from a European American point of view and to evaluate other ethnic groups in reference to European Americans.

As we review some of the psychological research on the intersection of gender and ethnicity, then, we must be conscious of how both androcentrism and Eurocentrism have permeated much of the traditional research. While progress has been made on this front, we continue to need more research that is both gender fair and race/ethnicity fair.

Guidelines for Research With People of Color

In response to the issues raised by the ethnic/cultural critique of psychological research, psychological researchers (who are also people of color) have now proposed guidelines for research with people of color (American Psychological Association, 2003; Corral & Landrine, 2010; McDonald, 2000; Myers et al., 2000; Santos de Barona & Barona, 2000; Sue & Sue, 2000). Fundamental to each of these guidelines is the assumption that conducting research with people of a specific ethnic group is valuable:

1. Collaboration: Are researchers from the ethnic group under study included as collaborators? As outsiders, all-White teams of researchers may get it wrong.

2. Theory: Is the theory that is the basis for the research appropriate for this ethnic group? If it is inappropriate, it should be revised or a new theory should be formulated.

Photo 4.3 When conducting research with people of color, it is important to include researchers from the ethnic group under study as collaborators.



3. Measurement: Are the psychological measures being used reliable and valid in this ethnic group? If a measure does not meet standards, it should be revised or a new measure should be devised.

The measurement issue is quite complex. Scales and the constructs they are designed to measure should demonstrate equivalence. Experts distinguish between conceptual equivalence and translational equivalence (Sue & Sue, 2000). Conceptual equivalence refers to the consistency of psychological constructs across different cultures. It is important that a concept developed by, say, a European American psychologist actually exists and has the same meaning in whatever other cultures are being studied. For example, some cultures have no concept of “homosexuality” (Herdt, 1998, 2006). And in other cultures, behaviors considered to be homosexual differ considerably from what most European Americans would assume. Among Mexicans, for instance, if two men engage in anal intercourse, the inserting partner is not considered gay because his behavior is like the man’s in heterosexual intercourse. The man who takes the receptive role is the only one who is considered gay (Magaña & Carrier, 1991). Asking about sexual orientation in these cultures either may not compute or may lead the respondent to answer with a very different idea in mind than the researcher intended.

Translational equivalence refers to consistency of meaning between languages. For example, a scale originally written in English but then translated into Spanish needs to have the same meaning in both languages. The technique used to check for translational equivalence involves both translation and back-translation. That is, the scale would be translated from English to Spanish by a fluently bilingual person, and then translated from Spanish back to English by a second fluently bilingual person. If the back-translated version matched the original, that would be evidence for translational equivalence.

4. Subcultural variations: Be aware of subcultural variations. For example, while many Asian American groups have common or shared experiences, they also have some important differences. Thus, we should be attentive to differences between, say, Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans.

5. Cultural heritage: Do the researchers understand the cultural heritage of the group being studied, including the values of the culture of origin (e.g., Japan for Japanese Americans) and the history of that ethnic group in the United States? Researchers need to be culturally competent.

6. Deficit interpretations: Do not assume that differences between two ethnic groups reflect a deficit within one of those groups. In particular, differences between European Americans and people of color do not imply deficits among people of color.

7. Race/ethnicity versus social class: In many research designs, race and social class are confounded, largely because many racial/ethnic groups in the United States are overrepresented among lower income people. When racial/ethnic differences are found in research, it is often unclear (and perhaps impossible to tell) whether such differences are due to race or social class (or both). Researchers should remove this confound from their research designs or at least be very cautious in interpretations of findings of any ethnic group differences.

Conceptual equivalence: In multicultural research, the construct measured by a scale has the same meaning in all cultures being studied.

Translational equivalence: In multicultural research, whether a scale written in one language and translated into another has the same meaning in both languages.

Focus 4.1 Racial Microaggressions

A distinguished Asian American psychologist was traveling with an African American colleague on a small regional jet with 1 + 2 seating. When they boarded the uncrowded plane, the (White) flight attendant told them that they could sit wherever they wished, so they sat across the aisle from each other toward the front. Later, three White men in suits boarded the plane and sat in the row in front of them. Before takeoff, the flight attendant scanned the plane and asked the Asian American and African American men to move to the back of the plane to distribute weight evenly.

The two psychologists did as they were told, but they felt resentful and angry. Why were they the ones who had to move to the back of the bus (plane)? Finally, the Asian American spoke to the flight attendant and said, “Did you know that you asked two passengers of color to step to the rear of the ’bus’?” Her response: “Well, I have never been accused of that! How dare you? I don’t see color! I only asked you to move to balance the plane.” Needless to say, the flight attendant’s response did little to appease the two psychologists.

This incident is an example of what Derald Wing Sue calls a racial microaggression (Sue, 2010; Sue et al., 2007). Racial microaggressions are subtle insults directed at people of color that may be done consciously or nonconsciously. Just like modern sexism, there is modern racism; microaggressions are an expression of modern racism in the United States today. Part of the power of these microaggressions is that they are often invisible to the perpetrator, as they were to the White flight attendant.

Racial microaggressions: Subtle insults directed at people of color, consciously or nonconsciously.

Racial microaggressions can take different forms. They may be microinvalidations, such as being told that all members of your racial/ethnic group look alike. Or they may be microinsults, such as being teased for being different from White people. Microassaults tend to be more explicit, such as name-calling. Each of these examples, on their own, may seem insignificant to many White people. But research indicates that these kinds of racial microaggressions happen frequently (e.g., Ong et al., 2013), raising concerns about the cumulative effects of being “othered” and treated differently because of one’s racial/ethnic heritage.

Racial microaggressions create psychological dilemmas both for the White perpetrator and for the person of color. According to Sue’s analysis, there are four principal dilemmas:

Dilemma 1: Clash of Racial Realities. The psychologists of color and the White flight attendant had different perceptions of the reality of what happened on the plane. The psychologists believed that they had been subjected to subtle racial discrimination. The White flight attendant believed that she was an unbiased person and that race had nothing to do with her behavior. Both sides were convinced of the reality of their own views, but they were in opposition to each other. Data indicate that most White people believe they do not engage in racist behavior, whereas the majority of African Americans report experiencing racial discrimination in the past year. How is that possible? Whose perception of reality is right? And, perhaps more importantly, what kind of psychological toll does it take on the person of color when they feel discriminated against and their perceptions are not believed by others?

Dilemma 2: The Invisibility of Unintentional Expressions of Bias. To White people who believe they aren’t biased, their own biased behaviors are invisible. How, then, can the person of color prove that a racial microaggression occurred? White people’s claims that they are “color-blind” serve only to invalidate the experiences of people of color.

Dilemma 3: Perceived Minimal Harm of Racial Microaggressions. Microaggressions are typically so subtle that it is difficult to convince others that they do serious harm. In the case of the plane passengers, what difference did it make if they rode at the back of the plane? They still got to their destination safely and at the same time. But what if these microaggressions happen every day for years and years? Research evidence indicates that being the object of racial microaggressions can result in serious psychological distress, sometimes for a long period of time, and such distress can have a negative impact on health (Ong et al., 2013).

Dilemma 4: The Catch-22 of Responding to Microaggressions. One of the problems with microaggressions is that the person of color loses whether they respond or not. In the case with the flight attendant, the Asian American psychologist spoke up and was rewarded with an antagonistic response from the flight attendant. If, instead, he had done nothing, he would have stewed and felt angry for the rest of the flight and perhaps long afterward. The experience of a microaggression is distressing, whether one speaks up or tries to ignore it.

Can we use an intersectional approach and see how racial microaggressions may also be gendered? Researchers have developed the Gendered Racial Microaggressions Scale to measure the frequency and stress of gendered racial microaggressions experienced by Black women (Lewis & Neville, 2015). The scale measures nonverbal, verbal, and behavioral racial and gender microaggressions. Some of the items include “imitated the way they think Black women speak,” “I have felt unheard,” and “Perceived to be an ’angry Black woman.’” Participants respond to these items regarding how often they happened (from 0 [never] to 5 [once a week or more]) and how stressful they are (from 0 [not at all stressful] to 5 [extremely stressful]). Black women’s frequency and stress of these gendered racial microaggressions is linked to their experience of psychological distress (Lewis & Neville, 2015).

Similarly, trans and queer people of color also experience such intersectional microaggressions. Research indicates that racist microaggressions that are experienced within LGBT communities and in dating and close relationships are common at this intersectional location, for example (Balsam et al., 2011).

Cultural Heritages of People of Color in the United States

Before we can consider contemporary gender roles and issues for people of color, we must first understand the cultural and historical heritage of these groups. This heritage includes the cultures in the lands of origin (Africa, Asia, Latin America), the impact of the process of both forced and voluntary migration to the United States, and the impact of the dominant European American culture of the United States.

The Cultural Heritage of Asian American Persons

Asian Americans make up nearly 6% of the U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015). Overall, Asian Americans come from 40 distinct ethnic groups that speak 40 languages and are from more than 20 countries (Chan, 2003). The largest Asian ethnic groups in the United States are Chinese (22%), Indian (20%), Filipino (18%), Vietnamese (11%), Korean (10%), and Japanese (5%; U.S. Census Bureau, 2010a).

People from these different ethnic groups arrived in the United States for different reasons and at different points in history. For example, Chinese people—almost all of them men—were recruited first in the 1840s to come to America as laborers in the West and later in the 1860s to work on the transcontinental railroad (for excellent summaries of the cultural heritage of Asian Americans, see Chan, 2003; Root, 1995). In response to growing racist sentiment against the Chinese, there was a shift toward recruiting Japanese and Korean immigrants, and then Filipinos. An immigration control law passed in 1924 virtually ended the immigration of Asian Americans until the act was revoked in 1965. Then, during the Vietnam War era of the late 1960s and 1970s, there was a mass exodus of refugees from war-torn Southeast Asia to the United States.

Across these diverse groups, research indicates that Asian Americans tend to share five core values (Kim et al., 2005):

1. Collectivism: Others’ needs, especially those of the family, should be considered before one’s own needs.

2. Conformity to norms: Individuals should conform to the expectations of their family and society.

3. Emotional control: Emotions should be controlled and not openly expressed.

4. Family recognition through achievement: One’s educational success brings honor to the family, and one’s educational failure brings shame.

5. Humility: One should be humble and never boastful.

For Asian Americans, the family is a great source of emotional nurturance and support. For them, the family includes not only the nuclear family but ancestors and the family of the future as well. One has an obligation to the family, and the needs of the family take precedence over the needs of the individual. Maintaining harmonious relations with others, especially one’s family, is important. Shame and the threat of loss of face, which can apply both to the individual and to their family, are powerful forces shaping good behavior. Often what may appear to be passivity in Asian American persons actually reflects conscientious efforts to maintain dignity and harmony.

Asian American women often marry individuals from different ethnic groups, having a high interracial marriage rate relative to Asian American men and to women of other ethnic groups (Jacobs & Labov, 2002; Wang, 2015). This pattern began when White and African American U.S. servicemen married Asian women in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Today that pattern continues: 37% of the Asian American women who were married in 2013 wed someone of a different racial/ethnic group (Wang, 2015).

There are numerous examples of racism directed against Asian American groups. Perhaps the most flagrant was the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Over 100,000 Japanese Americans (most of whom were American citizens) had their property confiscated and were forcibly relocated and incarcerated in prison camps in the United States.

Subcultural Variations

Although Asian Americans share some similarities in culture, great variations also exist. One Asian American woman is a Chinese American who is a physician and a fourth-generation descendant of a man brought to work on the transcontinental railroad. Another is a woman who dramatically escaped from Vietnam in a leaky boat in 1975 and lived in poverty as she adapted to a new language and host culture. There are substantial subcultural variations among Asian American women.

Research on these diverse cultures is increasingly found in mainstream psychology journals. One example is research on Khmer refugee women (e.g., Marshall et al., 2005; Thompson, 1991). The Khmer are an ethnic group from Cambodia in Southeast Asia. From 1975 to 1979, more than 1.5 million Cambodians were killed by the genocidal regime known as the Khmer Rouge. Many Khmer people fled to the United States around that period. Today, more than 275,000 Cambodian Americans (most of whom are Khmer) live in the United States. Researchers have studied Khmer refugee women, beginning with understanding their roles in Cambodia before the war, the culture in which these women had grown up and been socialized.

Khmer refugee women have experienced many forms of war-related and refugee-related trauma, including rape, abduction, and torture. The ethics of feminist research posed a dilemma for the researchers interviewing the refugee women. While researchers wanted to learn more about the traumatic experiences, it seemed that questioning the women about those topics reactivated traumatic memories and caused further pain. The researchers tried to achieve a balance between the goals of giving voice to these women’s experiences and not traumatizing the women further (Thompson, 1991).

Photo 4.4 Khmer refugee women show high rates of posttraumatic stress disorder.


Alain Nogues/Sygma/Getty Images.

Among Cambodians who lived during the Khmer Rouge regime, prevalence rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; see Chapter 14) are high (Sonis et al., 2009). In the United States, researchers estimate that up to 62% of Khmer refugees have PTSD (Marshall et al., 2005). In addition, most experienced near-death due to starvation and had a family member murdered by the Khmer Rouge (Marshall et al., 2005).

Today, many of those people who survived the Khmer Rouge regime are parents. Researchers have begun to study the intergenerational transmission of trauma to the children of Khmer women (e.g., Field, Myong, et al., 2013; Field, Om, et al., 2011). For example, one study with Khmer refugee women living in California found that mothers’ PTSD symptoms were linked to their children’s experiences of anxiety and depression. The evidence suggested that PTSD shaped the mothers’ parenting, which then shaped their children’s anxiety and depression symptoms. While humans are very resilient, it can take a great deal of support and time—perhaps even generations—to overcome severe trauma.

The Cultural Heritage of Latinx Persons

According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2015), nearly 18% of the population in the United States identifies as Hispanic. Of those living on the mainland, their backgrounds are as follows: 63% Mexican, 9% Puerto Rican, 4% Cuban, 3% Dominican, and 13% from other Central and South American countries (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010a). Some Latinx identify as White and some identify as Black, and many identify as neither. Nonetheless, most have both European and indigenous ancestors and therefore may identify as mestizo (de las Fuentes et al., 2003).

In understanding Latinx culture, two factors are especially significant: bilingualism and the importance of the family. Bilingualism, or knowing two languages, is important because Latinx children often grow up with two languages and thus two cultures. Often, Spanish is the language of home and family, and English the language of school and job. Latinx immigrants may know no English at first, and this language barrier is a problem in finding employment and in other areas of daily life.

Latinx daily life is focused on the family, demonstrating familismo. Familismo is defined as a sense of obligation to and connectedness with both one’s immediate and extended family (Hernández et al., 2010). Thus, traditional Latinas tend to place a high value on family loyalty and on warm, mutually supportive relationships. Family solidarity and ties to the extended family are vital (de las Fuentes et al., 2003). As a result, a young Latina is likely to be “mothered” not only by her own mother, but by her aunts or grandmothers as well. In many ways, familismo can seem at odds with dominant U.S. culture, which places a high value on individualism. And for employed Latinas, this emphasis on family can be especially stressful, as they are expected to be the preservers of family and culture and must juggle multiple roles to do so.

Familismo: In Latinx culture, a sense of obligation and connectedness with both one’s immediate and extended family.

As with Asian American women, the process of migration is also critical in understanding the background of Latinx women. While the majority of Latinx were born in the United States, approximately 35% are foreign born (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016b). These differences in migration contribute to diversity in the experiences and needs of Latinx.

The Cultural Heritage of American Indian Persons

American Indians and Alaska Natives make up 1.2% of the population of the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015). Just as we have recognized subcultural variations for people of other ethnic groups, we must do the same for American Indians, this time recognizing tribal variations. American Indians come from 550 different federally recognized tribes, as well as other tribes, and 220 Alaska native villages (Trimble, 2003). Indian societies were invaded by European Americans, so many current Indian practices resemble European American culture as a result of forced acculturation, Christianization, and economic changes (LaFromboise et al., 1995).

Historical trauma is an important concept in discussions of American Indians (Brave Heart, 2003; Gone, 2009). Historical trauma refers to cumulative psychological wounding over generations resulting from massive group trauma. For American Indians, historical trauma occurred with the invasion of and colonization by Europeans in the 1700s and 1800s, the murder of countless Native people, and being forced onto reservations. Women were sterilized without their consent and their children were forcibly abducted from them. The children were sent to institutions, where they were mistreated and punished for speaking their Native languages, so that they could be assimilated into White culture (Native American Rights Fund, 2013). These practices persisted into the mid-20th century. As one woman reported,

Historical trauma: Cumulative psychological wounding over generations resulting from massive group trauma.

[The residential school] is where I encountered all forms of abuse. . . . The form of discipline (the priest) used to give us was physical discipline. Used to get strapped. . . . We used to run away, too. I was trying to run away from that pain. We were trying to run away from the way we were treated. But when we . . . were caught, they used to shave our head. . . . I’m the victim of sexual abuse, too, by the priest. . . . I couldn’t study and I couldn’t concentrate across all that pain I carried there. (quoted in Gone, 2009, p. 755)

This historical trauma continues to affect American Indians today. Efforts by coalitions of American Indian tribes, such as the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (, continue to seek reparations for these abuses against Native children and culture. While American Indians display resilience in the face of historical trauma (LaFromboise et al., 2006), their experiences of oppression and marginalization continue.

The Spirit World is essential to Indian life, and especially to the life of Indian women. Women are seen as extensions of the Spirit Mother and as keys to the continuation of their people (LaFromboise et al., 1994). Another important part of American Indian life is a harmonious relationship with the Earth. The Earth is referred to as Mother Earth, and women are seen as connected with this important part of existence.

Thus American Indian women see themselves as part of a collective, fulfilling harmonious roles in the biological, spiritual, and social realms: Biologically, they value being mothers; spiritually, they are in tune with the Spirit Mother; and socially, they preserve and transmit culture and are the caretakers of their children and relatives (LaFromboise et al., 1990).

The Cultural Heritage of African American Persons

Over 13% of Americans identify themselves as Black or African American (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015). As with each of the ethnic groups discussed in this chapter thus far, considerable subcultural variations exist. One concerns whether the individual was born in the United States and descended from people brought here involuntarily as slaves, compared with those who are voluntary immigrants from the Caribbean or Africa.

Photo 4.5 The author and activist Mary Crow Dog (also known as Mary Brave Bird and Mary Ellen Moore-Richard) was a Lakota Sioux woman who grew up attending the St. Francis Boarding School on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, where she was taught to practice Christianity and not to speak her native Sioux language. She was punished for speaking out against the abuses she and other children experienced at the boarding school.


Ulf Andersen/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Multiple factors shape the cultural heritage of African American persons, including the heritage of African culture and the experience of slavery and continued racial oppression in America (Staples, 2006). These factors have varied somewhat by gender, although there are also differences. Today, two characteristics of the African woman’s role are maintained: an important economic function and a strong bond between mother and child (Greene, 1994). African women have traditionally been economically independent, functioning in the marketplace and as traders. Black women in the United States continue to assume this crucial economic function in the family to the present day. Mother—child bonds also continue to be extremely important in the structure of Black society.

The concept of historical trauma, discussed earlier for American Indians, is also important for African American people (Williams-Washington, 2010). For African Americans, the massive group trauma began with the period of slavery and continued with Jim Crow laws and then mass incarceration. The repercussions of these forms of oppression persist today.

African American culture, like that of other people of color, and in contrast to European American society, emphasizes the collective over the individual (Fairchild et al., 2003). It recognizes the important connections between generations, and it is concerned with the individual’s harmonious relationship with others (Myers et al., 2000), in contrast to the individualism of contemporary White culture and contemporary White psychology.

In the 1800s, when it was popular in the United States to put White women on a pedestal, Black women were viewed as beasts of burden and subjected to the same demeaning labor as Black men (Dugger, 1988). Angela Davis (1981) argued that this heritage created an alternative definition of womanhood for Black women, one that includes a tradition of “hard work, perseverance and self-reliance, a legacy of tenacity, resistance, and an insistence on sexual equality” (p. 29). This is also an example of intersectionality: Womanhood is constructed differently across different racial/ethnic groups. Some researchers have found that this construction of Black womanhood contributes to the stereotype of the “strong Black woman,” which can be both aspirational and constricting for Black women (Abrams et al., 2014; Etowa et al., 2017).

Focus 4.2 Women and Islam

Photo 4.6 Around the world, there is diversity in the practice of veiling among Muslim women.



The Prophet Muhammad founded Islam around 610 CE (Common Era, or AD). Muhammad advocated more equal treatment for women than could be found in the cultures of the time. For example, female infanticide was practiced widely in those cultures, but was prohibited under Muhammad. After Muhammad’s death, conditions for women worsened. Women were increasingly confined to the private sphere of the home. This seclusion of women ensured that they would not participate in the public sphere of government and business.

Islam, much like other religions such as Christianity and Judaism, is not uniform. Islamic law and religion and their implications for women are interpreted differently across various Muslim cultures. For example, two major divisions within Islam are the Sunni and the Shi’a; Sufi is a third, smaller branch. Worldwide, the majority of Muslims are Sunni.

Similarly, there is diversity in the practice of veiling or wearing hijab. Today, three nations mandate that women be covered: Iran, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia. In contrast, in Turkey, a secular state, women are forbidden from wearing headscarves in, for example, driver’s license photos. In Afghanistan, Pashtun women wore the chadri (a full-body covering that also covers one’s face, except for mesh fabric over one’s eyes) prior to the time of Muhammad and most continue that practice today. Yet this type of veiling is illegal in some countries such as France, where Muslims are a religious minority.

The Qur’an, or Koran (Islam’s holy scripture, revealed to the Prophet), is clear that women should participate equally with men in religious observances. Over time, though, this principle has been lost. The Qur’an gives women the right to inherit property and to divorce, revolutionary ideas at the time. Although several Islamic cultures today practice the stoning of women if they commit adultery, this practice is not stated in the Qur’an. In short, many of the practices that oppress women in Islamic nations are the result of culture, not Islam. Female circumcision is a good example; it is not mandated in the Qur’an.

There are about 3.3 million Muslims in the United States today. Many Muslim women are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from Arab nations. In addition, some African American women practice Islam.

Today, Islamic women in many nations struggle for equal rights, but they do so in the context of intense and sometimes violent religious and political conflict. Terrorist organizations such as ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and Boko Haram claim to be representative of Islam, but they are rejected by the vast majority of Muslims around the world.

Sources: Mohamed (2016); Sechzer (2004); Wyche (2004).

Gender Roles and Ethnicity

A basic tenet of intersectionality is that gender and race/ethnicity are interconnected. Gender roles are constructed within the cultural context of a particular ethnic group and the broader political system, so it is not surprising that both similarities and differences exist in gender roles across diverse racial/ethnic groups. Moreover, we should keep in mind that strict gender roles rooted in the gender binary may create a particularly challenging developmental context for queer and trans persons. Yet very little research on this topic is available.

In the context of the cultural heritages of people of color in the United States, let us consider the gender roles that have evolved within these diverse communities.

Gender Roles Among American Indian Persons

Today it is clear that the early work of anthropologists misrepresented women’s roles in American Indian culture (LaFromboise et al., 1990). Their work demonstrates how gender bias and race bias can easily affect research in the social sciences. For starters, the researchers were men and non-Indian. As such, they focused on male activities and had greater access to male informants. A stereotyped dichotomy of American Indian women as either princess or squaw emerged, much like the saint/slut dichotomy that was drawn for Victorian White women. In addition, because the anthropologists were not Indian and thus were outsiders, they were able to observe only the public sphere and how Indians interacted with outsiders. Since, in some tribes, dealing with outsiders was an activity assigned to men, researchers overestimated men’s power within the tribe. They were not witness to women’s interactions and powerful roles within the private sphere. And some tribes had a matrilineal system of inheritance, meaning that women could own property, which would be passed from mother to daughter. After a long legacy of White violence against American Indians, Indian women were unlikely to share their intimate rituals or feelings with these outsiders. In sum, researchers had only a vague and imprecise sense of American Indian women’s roles.

For example, it was reported that, during their menstrual periods, American Indian women were isolated from their tribe and its activities and kept in a secluded menstrual hut, based on the Native view that women were contaminated at this time (e.g., Stephens, 1961). Yet firsthand accounts from Indian writers provided a different interpretation (LaFromboise et al., 1990). Menstruating women were not shunned as unclean, but rather were considered extremely powerful, with tremendous capacities for destruction. Women’s spiritual forces were thought to be especially strong during menstruation, and women were generally thought to possess powers so great that they could counteract or weaken men’s powers. The interpretation matters—shifting from a view of a shunned, powerless woman to that of a too-powerful woman.

While there are considerable variations across tribes, there were also shared values. For example, an American Indian woman’s spirituality, extended family, and tribe were central to her identity and gender role (LaFromboise et al., 1990). Collectivity and harmony with the spiritual world, the world of one’s family and tribe, and the natural world were emphasized. In addition, women’s status increased with their age. Older women were respected for their wisdom and for their knowledge of tribal history, healing, and the sacred (LaFromboise et al., 1995). Some American Indian women advocate a return to these traditional values associated with women’s roles, while at the same time cultivating the skills of the dominant European American culture—a combination known as bicultural competence (LaFromboise et al., 1995).

The evidence shows that some American Indian tribes had a system of egalitarian gender roles, in which separate but equally valued tasks were assigned to men and women (Blackwood, 1984). While some tribes, such as the Klamath, had these egalitarian patterns, it is important to keep tribal variations in mind.

In addition, some tribes, such as the Canadian Blackfeet, had institutionalized alternative female roles. In these roles, women might be expected to express “masculine” traits or participate in male-stereotyped activities while continuing to live and dress as a woman. For example, there was the role of the “manly hearted woman,” a role that an independent and aggressive woman could adopt. There also was a “warrior woman” role among the Apache, Crow, Cheyenne, Blackfoot, and Pawnee tribes (e.g., Thomas, 2000). In some cases, we might understand these alternative female roles as reflecting a third gender or a transgender identity.

In Chapter 1, we introduced the Two Spirit, a third or fourth gender category found within some American Indian tribes. Two Spirits are people who feel they possess both male and female spirits. Traditionally, Two Spirit people performed important and unique roles in their communities, such as serving as medicine people or community leaders or bestowing sacred names (Robinson, 2017). For example, the Zuni Pueblo Two Spirit We’wha served as a cultural ambassador to the U.S. federal government for her tribe. In some cases, Two Spirit people might also be involved in masculine or feminine tasks, such as hunting, fighting, preparing food, or making pottery or baskets. Today, Two Spirit people may be found performing a variety of tasks and working in diverse careers, much like other members of their tribes.

Gender Roles Among African American Persons

As noted earlier, research on African Americans and other people of color tends to be limited by a critical methodological issue. The issue is that race/ethnicity and social class are often confounded. Black people tend to be overrepresented among the poor and White people tend to be overrepresented among the middle class and wealthy, so it is often unclear whether differences between Black and White Americans should be attributed to race/ethnicity, social class, or both. In general, research techniques have not been powerful enough to completely address this confound. As we review the material on gender and ethnicity, keep in mind that much of what seems to be ethnic group differences may have much to do with social class differences as well.

For African American women, the multiple roles of parent, worker, and spouse/partner have been a reality for generations. This stands in contrast to the situation for White middle-class American women, for whom these multiple roles are more recent (this issue is discussed more generally in Chapter 9). Motherhood remains a primary definer of the female gender role, but African American women have typically taken on additional roles, such as worker and head of household. Black women generally expect that they must hold paying jobs as adults (Greene, 1994), and this expectation has important consequences for their educational and occupational attainments, as we shall see later.

An intersectional approach demonstrates that, across racial/ethnic groups, women have different experiences. For example, in 2015, 49.5% of Black family households (that is, households with children under age 25) were maintained by single women, compared with 16.3% of White families (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016b). This discrepancy has increased over time. For example, only 25% of Black families were headed by women in 1965 (Dickson, 1993). A number of factors contribute to the greater rates of female-headed households among African Americans.

1. Lower heterosexual marriage rates among African Americans. Among Black women in 2015, 26% were married (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016a). At the same time, 18% were divorced or separated and 48% had never been married. For comparison, among White women, 51% were married, 15% were divorced or separated, and 24% had never been never married. This pattern of lower marriage rates is a result of many of the factors listed below.

2. The obstacles African American men have encountered in seeking and maintaining jobs necessary to support their families (Harknett & McLanahan, 2004). Since World War II, the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States has declined dramatically. These jobs were a major source of employment for working-class Black men. The result has been a decrease in working-class jobs and an increase in joblessness among Black men (Byars-Winston et al., 2015).

3. The unequal gender ratio among African Americans (Stockard et al., 2009). The most recent census found that, among adults, there were only 83 Black men for every 100 Black women, compared with 95 White men per 100 White women (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010a). This gender ratio is driven by two factors: Black men’s higher incarceration rates and early death rates (Wolfers et al., 2015).

4. Interracial dating and marriage patterns of Black men. For example, Black men are far more likely to marry White women than Black women are to marry White men (Wang, 2015).

Among older adults as well, the role of Black women differs from that of White women. The feelings of uselessness and the lack of roles experienced by White women in their youth-oriented culture are less common among African Americans. The extended-family structure among African Americans provides a secure position and role for older women. The “granny” role—helping to care for young grandchildren, giving advice based on experience—is a meaningful and valued role for the older Black woman (Greene, 1994). Older Black women have a more purposeful and respected role than elderly White women do. This respect for older women and their wisdom is also found among American Indians.

Gender Roles Among Asian American Persons

It is common to think of Asian Americans as the “model minority.” In 2015, for example, the median annual income was $48,313 for Asian American women, higher than for women of any other ethnic group, including European Americans (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015). At the same time, over 49% of Asian American women graduated from college, also higher than for women of any other ethnic group (see Table 4.1; U.S. Census Bureau, 2016a). Nonetheless, feminist Asian Americans note that Asian American women are victims of both racism and sexism. For example, the model minority stereotype hides the trauma and struggle of refugees, as the earlier discussion of Khmer refugee women illustrated. And distorted stereotypes remain in the mass media (Marchetti, 1993), such as the Asian man as the violent Kung Fu warrior.

Photo 4.7 The “granny” role is a meaningful and valued role for older Black women, who are respected within the family.



At least five stereotypes about Asian American women are widespread (Root, 1995). The first is female subservience, deriving in part from women’s lower status in countries such as China and Japan. The second stereotype is that Asian American women are exotic sex toys. The third is the Dragon Lady stereotype, in which Asian American women are depicted as diabolical wielders of power. A variation on this stereotype is of the cold and demanding Tiger Mother. The dichotomy between the subservient stereotype and the Dragon Lady stereotype reinforces good girl/bad girl dualities, and the Asian American woman who fails to be subservient may be quickly cast as a Dragon Lady. The fourth stereotype is the sexless worker bee, which includes women who work as domestics or garment workers. The fifth stereotype is the China doll, the idea that Asian American women are fragile and innocent.

The expectations from traditional Asian culture—for family interdependence, preservation of group harmony, and stoicism—are closely connected to Asian American women specifically. As part of their bicultural existence, Asian American women experience gender role conflict between the gender roles of their traditional Asian culture and modern American culture, which prioritizes independence and individuality.

Gender Roles Among Latinx Persons

Gender roles are strictly defined in traditional Latin American cultures (Raffaelli & Ontai, 2004). Gender roles are emphasized early in the socialization process for children and are reiterated across development (Umaña-Taylor et al., 2009). For example, Latino boys are given greater freedom, encouraged in sexual exploits, and not expected to share in household work. By contrast, Latina girls are expected to be passive, obedient, and feminine, and to stay in the home caring for the needs of others.

These traditional roles are epitomized in the cultural ideals of machismo and marianismo (Miville et al., 2017). Machismo, or macho, refers to the mystique of manliness or male gender norms, literally meaning “maleness” or “virility.” The cultural ideal of machismo among Latin Americans assumes heterosexual marriage and, in that context, mandates that the man must be the provider and the one responsible for the well-being and honor of his family (Glass & Owen, 2010). Men hold a privileged position and are to be treated as authority figures.

Machismo: The ideal of manliness in Latinx culture.

There are both positive and negative sides of machismo (Arciniega et al., 2008). Caballerismo, rooted in the Spanish word caballero, is an ideal of a Spanish gentleman with good manners and ethics. It is much like the English chivalric code for knights. As the positive side of machismo, it emphasizes chivalry and the centrality of the family. Yet the negative side of machismo tends to be overemphasized in research and popular culture. It has come to include sexist or chauvinistic attitudes and behaviors, including the glorification of sexual conquests and even violent physical domination of women. Of course, such hypermasculinity is also common among European Americans.

Marianismo is the female complement to male machismo (Castillo et al., 2010; Miville et al., 2017). The ideal of marianismo is rooted in the Catholic worship of the Virgin Mary and holds that women must emulate her. That is, women are expected to be chaste, obedient, modest, and pious, and thus capable of enduring the suffering inflicted by men. Latin American cultures attribute high status to motherhood, and higher status is given to Latinas who are mothers. Women are expected to be self-sacrificing in relation to their children and the rest of their family. On the surface, the machismo and marianismo roles may seem to endorse male domination and female subordination, but the situation is complex. Women who excel in the marianista role come to be revered as they grow older and their children feel strong loyalty and deference to them, such that they wield considerable power within the family.

Marianismo: The ideal of womanliness in Latinx culture.

In sum, the traditional gender roles for Latinos and Latinas are complementary but complex. Machismo includes both positive and negative sides, emphasizing both dominance and chivalry. And marianismo involves passivity and subservience, but this generalization masks the powerful roles that women play within the family.


A topic that is of personal significance to many people, including people of color, is immigration. In the United States today, one-quarter of the population is either first- or second-generation American, meaning that they or one of their parents were born in another country (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). In general, three broad factors drive migration. People migrate from one country to another because the want to reunite their family, to find work, or to seek humanitarian refuge or asylum (American Psychological Association [APA] Presidential Task Force on Immigration, 2012).

While the United States and Canada both have rich histories of immigration, the topic has also been controversial in large part because of perceived racial, ethnic, and religious differences, as well as perceptions that immigrants will receive valuable jobs or threaten public safety (Murray & Marx, 2013). For example, in the United States, Italian immigrants were once discriminated against, in part, because they were perceived as not White. Today, immigrants from many Middle Eastern and Muslim-majority countries experience similar discrimination. Here we briefly introduce some of the psychological aspects of immigration. We focus on immigrant experiences in the United States but note that experiences elsewhere are both similar and different.

Broadly, people moving into the United States from other countries can be grouped according to their status as (a) legal immigrants, (b) undocumented immigrants, and (c) refugees. Legal immigrants are people who have legal authorization (e.g., a green card or visa) to live in the United States. Undocumented immigrants are people who lack such authorization. Refugees are people who have been forced to flee their home countries because of persecution, war, or violence.

For any of these three groups, the process of migration can be extremely stressful and risky (Lueck & Wilson, 2011; Yakushko & Espín, 2010). For a woman who leaves her homeland and friends, acute feelings of loss and grief are to be expected. Among refugees, girls and women are considered the most vulnerable (UNHCR, 2017). As described earlier, refugee women (such as those fleeing the Khmer Rouge regime) are particularly at risk for severe stress and PTSD.

According to the UNHCR (2017), there are 21.3 million refugees in the world, the vast majority of whom are never able to resettle or find safe, permanent homes to rebuild their lives. As people fleeing persecution, war, or violence, most refugees have experienced considerable trauma, possibly including unexpected and sudden loss of friends and family members, sexual violence, and torture, as well as witnessing violence. As they flee their home countries, they may encounter additional stressors such as lack of access to basic necessities like food, clean water, and physical safety, as well as unemployment. If refugees do not speak the language of their postmigration host country, and/or if the citizens of that country are not welcoming, they may face continued stress and feelings of isolation, sadness, and fear. One study with Syrian refugees found that 33.5% have PTSD, with women’s rates being four times higher than men’s (Alpak et al., 2015). A review of such research showed that stress-related symptoms such as sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, dizziness, migraine headaches, and repeated vomiting are common (Ghumman et al., 2016). Making psychological services available to refugees is important for their well-being and reducing PTSD and depression within this vulnerable population.

When we speak of immigration for any of these groups, a critical psychological concept is acculturation. Acculturation is the process of psychological and behavioral change that one undergoes as a result of long-term contact with another culture, including the adoption of values, customs, norms, attitudes, and behaviors from that culture (APA Presidential Task Force on Immigration, 2012; Yoon et al., 2013; Zea et al., 2003). For example, because of acculturation, the culture of Mexican Americans is different from both the culture of Mexico and the dominant European American culture of the United States. Mexican American culture is based on the Mexican heritage, modified through acculturation to incorporate European American components. Similar diversity is seen with other immigrant groups in the United States. Acculturation includes multiple dimensions, such as language use, norms, and attitudes. The process may vary based on age, in that, relative to older immigrants, younger immigrants tend to adopt and incorporate the host culture more quickly and may not retain their origin culture (APA Presidential Task Force on Immigration, 2012).

Acculturation: A multidimensional process of psychological and behavioral change one undergoes as a result of long-term contact with another culture, including the adoption of that culture’s values, customs, norms, attitudes, and behaviors.

Acculturation can be a stressful process, particularly if there is conflict between one’s native culture and host culture. Acculturative stress refers to the stress of acculturation and may happen because of the pressure to both maintain values from one’s native culture and adopt behaviors and norms of one’s host culture (APA Presidential Task Force on Immigration, 2012). Still, in general, acculturation is associated with positive outcomes.

Acculturative stress: Specific stress of the acculturation process.


Education has long been a valued path for people of color and immigrants to the United States seeking to improve their job success, their status, and their standard of living. Worldwide, education and literacy are critical issues for women: Two-thirds of the illiterate adults in the world are women (UNESCO, 2008). Therefore, as we examine women’s achievements, it is important to look at education.

Photo 4.8 A Syrian refugee family. There are 21.3 million refugees in the world, most fleeing persecution, war, or violence in their home countries.


Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

Table 4.1 shows the educational attainments of Americans broken down by gender (as a binary) and ethnicity, as the U.S. Census Bureau reports. Focusing first on the section of the table that deals with high school graduation, you can see that although there is some problem with high school dropouts among Whites, African Americans, and Asian Americans, basically about 80% to 90% of each group does graduate from high school. Graduation rates are considerably lower for Hispanic men and women, but many are immigrants from countries with little access to education. Another interesting pattern is that, across ethnic groups, the graduation rates for women and men are similar.


Source: U.S. Census Bureau (2016a).

The section on those who graduate from college indicates a pattern of gender similarities in these recent years. That is, women’s rates of graduating from college are similar to men’s. The ethnic differences in college graduation rates, however, are stark.

Beyond these statistics are also important issues regarding the intersection of race discrimination and sex discrimination in the schools. Even elementary school children can identify race discrimination by teachers toward students in stories read to them (Brown, 2006). A study of gender and racial discrimination in high schools investigated both discrimination by peers and classroom discrimination by teachers in a sample of Black youth (Chavous et al., 2008). In general, the study found that Black boys were stereotyped more negatively than Black girls or White youth and that Black boys reported more peer discrimination and classroom discrimination than Black girls did. These experiences of discrimination can affect school performance and students’ sense of the importance of school. Boys’ experience of discrimination was negatively associated with their GPA; in other words, boys who reported more discrimination had lower GPAs. Yet the same pattern did not hold for girls. In sum, racist stereotypes are gendered and they seem to affect boys and girls differently.

In predominantly White colleges and universities, women of color may experience the paradox of underattention and overattention. On the one hand, their comments may be ignored or they may not receive the help they need in a lab. On the other hand, if the discussion focuses on women of color, they may be called on to represent the views of all women of their ethnic group. They are “othered” and treated differently based on their race.

Focus 4.3 Affirmative Action

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin that universities could include race as a factor in admissions decisions to promote student diversity on campus, bolstering the constitutionality of affirmative action programs. Affirmative action is a controversial topic in the United States, with some arguing that it is absolutely necessary to achieve diversity and make up for historic wrongs and others arguing that it is unfair and runs counter to American principles of succeeding purely on one’s merit. The treatment of both women and people of color is at the center of the debate.

Affirmative action can be defined as “voluntary and mandatory efforts undertaken by federal, state, and local governments; private employers; and schools to combat discrimination and to promote equal opportunity in education and employment for all” (American Psychological Association, 1996, p. 2). Affirmative action is generally considered to have two goals: eliminating discrimination against women and ethnic minorities and righting the effects of past discrimination.

Can psychological data shed any light on whether affirmative action is a beneficial policy? Psychologist Faye Crosby and her colleagues analyzed the potential costs and benefits, as judged by the available data, as follows (Crosby, Iyer, Clayton, et al., 2003; Crosby, Iyer, & Sincharoen, 2006).

Potential Benefit: Enhanced Diversity and Achievement

The idea here is that affirmative action increases diversity—whether in the workplace or in the student body—and that this diversity is itself beneficial. The first question, then, is whether affirmative action actually increases diversity. Analyses by economists indicate that affirmative action has been very effective at increasing the numbers of women and people of color at all organizational levels. As for benefits in the workplace, research shows that diversity introduces more points of view into an organization, which can enhance the organization’s problem-solving capacity. Laboratory studies show that ethnically diverse workgroups generate a wider range of ideas of higher quality, compared with homogeneous workgroups. A diverse workforce also helps firms create and market products to new populations.

Photo 4.9 In diverse classrooms and schools, prejudice is reduced and cross-racial friendships are fostered.



Turning to diversity in colleges and universities, one benefit is that students learn more and think more critically when they are exposed to more heterogeneous learning environments, whether the learning environment is other students or faculty (Bowman, 2010). A second benefit is that a diverse student body helps prepare all students for the multicultural interactions they will have in modern American society. Third are benefits to society as a whole; meta-analytic evidence indicates that, compared with their White peers, students of color are more likely to become civic leaders later in life (Bowman, 2011).

Enhanced diversity also promotes a better climate for students of color. In nondiverse educational settings, students of color experience higher rates of microaggressions (McCabe, 2009). By contrast, in diverse educational settings, prejudice is reduced and cross-racial friendships are fostered (Levine & Ancheta, 2013).

Potential Cost 1: Violation of Principles of Merit and Justice

Opponents of affirmative action argue that decisions about hiring or college admissions should be made on merit alone and that American principles of justice are violated when factors such as gender or ethnicity are taken into account. Crosby and her colleagues concluded, however, that almost all measures of merit are flawed and/or somewhat subjective and therefore influenced by decision makers’ prejudice. As an example of a flawed measure, the SAT generates much lower scores for Black and Latinx test takers and some Asian Americans (Cambodian, Filipino), yet those students with much lower scores go on to earn only slightly lower grades and graduate at only slightly lower rates, compared with their White peers. Similar findings, discussed in Chapter 8, indicate that women score lower than men on the SAT Math, but then earn better grades in college. And a large data set from the University of California indicates that SAT scores do not predict grades if socioeconomic status is controlled in the analysis. In short, the argument that decisions should be made on merit alone assumes that we have perfect measures of merit, but we do not.

The other issue with merit is that, often, subjective judgments are made by people such as the person doing the hiring, the supervisor evaluating the employee for promotion, or the college admissions officer. A massive amount of data from social psychology indicates that Americans—including supervisors and college admissions officers—hold sexist and racist prejudices, but the prejudices are implicit so the person thinks that they are being entirely fair. Again, these individuals may think that they are making decisions based purely on merit, but the data indicate that they are at least in part responding to implicit gender and ethnic stereotypes.

Potential Cost 2: Undermining the Self-confidence of the Beneficiaries

Another argument is that if people know they are affirmative action hires or affirmative action admissions, that will undermine their self-confidence, making them feel inferior to their coworkers or classmates. Contrary to this argument, social psychologists’ research shows that people have a number of self-protective psychological processes that buffer them from undermining. When they encounter negative treatment, women and people of color may attribute it to sexism or racism and their self-confidence remains intact. All this assumes, of course, that the hiring was based not only on affirmative action but also on qualifications, which is almost invariably the case. As one Black woman said,

I believe in Affirmative Action. My view of Affirmative Action is that it is long overdue. . . . And my thing is (picking up the audio recorder and placing it close to her mouth), I don’t care how I got here, dammit! Move over! I’m coming for that seat. What really throws people is that they say, “You just got here.” So! I’m here now! And I’m doing just as good or even better than most of the folks here. They let a whole lot of White folks in this school that had no business being in here and they always want to throw up GPA and SAT scores and all this crap. How did Bush go to Yale? (quoted in Gutter, 2002, p. 100)

Crosby and her colleagues concluded that, on balance, affirmative action policies have far more benefits than costs. In addition, these findings affirm that rulings such as Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, in allowing race-conscious admissions decisions at universities, promote more diverse educational settings, which in turn foster higher achievement and a more positive climate across contexts.

As we consider the educational experiences of women of color, it is important to recall the important research on stereotype threat, discussed in detail in Chapter 3 (e.g., Spencer et al., 2016; Steele, 1997; Steele & Aronson, 1995). According to that research, every time a Black woman takes a calculus test, she is likely to experience double stereotype threat because women—and Black people—are stereotyped as bad at math. Even if she is academically talented, she may be seized with worries that she will confirm stereotypes, and as a result, her performance suffers. The same is true for Latinas and American Indian women. Stereotype threat poses a serious barrier to educational attainment for women of color, and meta-analysis shows that the effects of stereotype threat on math performance are greater for women of color (Spencer et al., 2016).

In summary, in this section on education we have examined the intersection of race and gender at two levels: the microlevel (classroom interactions and stereotype threat) and the macrolevel (statistics on degrees awarded to people of color in the United States). Two important points emerge from this discussion:

1. Gender and race are powerful factors in classroom dynamics, whether in elementary school or college. Women of color may receive stereotypical responses that encourage neither their academic achievement nor their sense of their own academic competence.

2. With the exception of Asian Americans, women of color in the United States are not graduating from college or pursuing graduate education at a rate comparable to that of Whites. This lack of education in turn precludes many occupations and limits earnings. Therefore, the recruitment and retention of women of color in higher education need to be top priorities.

Mental Health Issues

Racism pervades the history of clinical psychology and its treatment of people of color in the United States. For example, the census of 1840 reported that African Americans in the Northern states had far higher rates of psychopathology than African Americans in the slave states. Psychiatrists of the day interpreted this finding as indicating that the supervision and control that slavery provided were essential to African Americans’ well-being. In other words, the data and methods of social science were used to defend slavery as beneficial for African Americans (Deutsch, 1944). While that part of the census data was later found to have been fabricated, the official record remained uncorrected and the damage was done.

In the early 1900s, psychologists advanced theories that perpetuated racial stereotyping. For example, it was theorized that African Americans were innately happy-go-lucky and therefore immune to depression (Landrine, 1988; A. Thomas & Sillen, 1972). This bias persisted through the 20th century, when depressed African Americans were likely to be misdiagnosed, often as schizophrenics (Landrine, 1988; Simon et al., 1973).

Today, research clearly demonstrates that experiences of oppression based on gender, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation can be a source of both short-term and long-term stress, and stress undermines mental and physical health (e.g., Russo, 2010; Spencer et al., 2010). For example, in a study with Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and African Americans, researchers found that individuals’ perceptions of racist discrimination were linked to depression, PTSD, and substance abuse, as well as other mental health issues (Chou et al., 2012). Researchers have identified the experience of race-based traumatic stress among people of color (Carter, 2007). Race-based trauma occurs when a person experiences a sudden, unexpected, and emotionally painful encounter, such as being racially profiled by police. In turn, the person’s reaction may include arousal or hyperviligance, intrusion or reexperiencing, and avoidance or numbing, which are characteristic of PTSD (discussed further in Chapter 14). The person may also experience depression, anger, physical symptoms, and low self-esteem.

Still, contemporary psychology may not be a good fit for all racial/ethnic groups. For American Indians, the definition of well-being and the method of treating disturbances are at odds with mainstream psychotherapy in the United States (Gone, 2009). In most American Indian cultures, a person is considered to be well psychologically when they are peaceful and exuding strength through self-control and adherence to their cultural values (LaFromboise et al., 1990). Yet when a person is unwell, traditional healing systems are used, which involve a community process that helps the individual while also reaffirming the norms of the community; the process is holistic and naturalistic (LaFromboise et al., 1995).

Whether on the reservation or off, American Indian women experience intense stressors, but they appear to be reluctant to use mental health services (LaFromboise et al., 1995). In part, this reluctance is caused by the fact that they view the existing services as unresponsive to them and their needs. American Indians who do use mental health services often express concern that these services guide their behavior in a direction that is at odds with their Native culture.

At another corner of the gender-ethnicity intersection, Asian American women also experience stresses from racism and sexism. Yet, compared with European Americans, Asian Americans underutilize mental health services (Abe-Kim et al., 2007; Kimerling & Baumrind, 2005). For a long time, the explanation was that Asian Americans simply have a low rate of mental disturbance. Today, it seems more accurate to say that, while mental illness is stigmatized broadly, the stigma and shame are especially strong within Asian American cultures, so individuals are reluctant to seek help until a true crisis has developed. And when Asian Americans do seek therapy, they often find that it is not sensitive to the values of their culture (Root, 1995).

As these studies demonstrate, an important task for clinical psychology is to develop culturally sensitive methods of psychotherapy (American Psychological Association, 2003). An additional, related task is to increase the number of psychologists of color, who can bring valuable cultural sensitivities and competence to therapeutic and research settings. Guidelines on providing affirmative care to transgender and gender nonconforming people of color are also available (Chang & Singh, 2016). Such guidelines include examining the intersectionality of race/ethnicity and gender identity, reflecting on one’s own race/ethnicity and gender identity, and assessing client strengths and resilience in coping with multiple oppressions.

Feminisms of Color

As members of multiply marginalized groups, women of color have unique perspectives on sexism and racism. Women of color have emerged as powerful forces in the feminist movement, shaping feminism to be more inclusive of the diversity of experiences and priorities among women (Comas-Diaz, 1991; Hurtado, 2010; Sinacore & Enns, 2005). Women of color feminism or feminisms of color tend to be critical of White feminists who have focused exclusively on “universal” female experiences (e.g., reproductive freedom) while ignoring both the diversity in women’s experiences and their own privileged status as Whites (Bryant-Davis & Comas-Díaz, 2016; Enns & Sinacore, 2001).

At the same time, some people of color have been critical of civil rights and other social justice activist groups for marginalizing the voices and experiences of women of color. For example, the #SayHerName movement emerged in response to the Black Lives Matter movement’s tendency to focus on anti-Black violence and police brutality against Black men while ignoring similar violence against Black women (African American Policy Forum, 2015). The explicitly intersectional perspective of #SayHerName emphasizes how racism and sexism contribute to the marginalization of and violence against Black women and girls.

Photo 4.10 The #SayHerName movement is an explicitly intersectional activist movement focused on ending violence against Black women and girls.


New York Daily News/Getty Images.

Womanism (or Black feminism) is a feminist perspective grounded in the experience of Black women in the United States (Boisnier, 2003; Collins, 1989; James & Busia, 1993; Ransby, 2000; Walker, 1983). Although womanism formally emerged in the context of mainstream feminism dominated by White women in the 1970s and 1980s, its historical origins go back much further. It is evident in the activism of Sojourner Truth, Ida Wells-Barnett, and Fannie Lou Hamer, among others, and also in the actions of common Black women and their everyday acts of resistance, beginning in the days of slavery (Collins, 1989). Womanism explicitly considers the intersecting oppressions of racism and sexism, forming the foundation of intersectionality theory (Else-Quest & Hyde, 2016). In her writing about womanism, the author Alice Walker (1983) described the commitment to the survival and wholeness of people of color—not just women of color—and emphasized how sexism, racism, and classism are important.

Womanism: Feminism rooted in the lived experience of Black women and women of color; also Black feminism.

Womanism is considered a holistic and interdisciplinary feminism, respecting and honoring women’s spirituality and multiple ways of knowing (Bryant-Davis & Comas-Díaz, 2016). The emphasis on spirituality—which is largely absent from mainstream White feminism—is especially noteworthy.

Feminisms of color, such as womanism, tend to be strengths-based. That is, these perspectives emphasize strengths, agency, resilience, and other positive traits of women of color (Bryant-Davis & Comas-Díaz, 2016). Thus, in light of a history characterized by, among other things, oppression based on both gender and race, womanism pivots from victimization to resilience and the collective power of communities of color. Womanist theorists have proposed a positive womanist psychospirituality, which integrates Black psychology and womanism within a positive psychology approach. It includes six positive life principles: (1) Black women’s extended ways of knowing and contextualized knowledge; (2) spirited and inspired living, including hope and faith in God; (3) interconnected love and compassion; (4) balance and flexibility, including responsibility and adaptation; (5) liberation and inclusion, as well as resistance against oppression; and (6) empowered authenticity, including courage and the importance of speaking truth to power (Harrell et al., 2014). Each of these principles is consistent with the womanist and Black feminist emphases on strengths, agency, resilience, and spirituality.

Black feminist thought also holds that viewpoints and opinions are personal rather than objective (see our discussion of social constructionism and the feminist critique of objectivity in Chapter 1) and that individuals are also personally accountable for their beliefs. Thus, a psychologist whose theorizing perpetuates racial stereotypes or racism is held responsible for those effects and cannot hide behind the mask of scientific objectivity.

Similarly, Mujerismo developed among Latinas who felt marginalized by White feminism. Mujerismo comes from the Spanish word mujer, meaning woman. Translated literally, mujerismo means Latina womanism. Mujeristas seek to promote the liberation, self-definition, and self-determination of Latinas (Bryant-Davis & Comas-Díaz, 2016). A related feminism of color is Chicana feminism (see, e.g., Hurtado, 2003). In the 1960s, at much the same time as the Black Power movement was very active, a Chicano liberation movement was a vital force. Probably the best-known facet of this movement was the unionization of the United Farmworkers. Chicanas were an important part of this movement. Like African American women in the Black liberation movement, they gained experience with activism, but at the same time they became disturbed by the male dominance and sexism within the Chicano movement. Chicana feminism grew from these roots. Chicana feminists thus have the dual goals of cultural nationalism (liberation for Chicanas/os) and feminism (liberation for women).

Mujerismo: Feminism rooted in the lived experience of Latinas; Latina womanism.

A more recent development is transnational feminism (see Chapter 1), which is consistent with some but not all aspects of feminisms of color in the United States. Both perspectives note that definitions of feminism need to be broadened, but transnational feminism also emphasizes colonization and globalization as contributing systems of oppression (Grabe & Else-Quest, 2012; Lugones, 2010). In particular, transnational feminism focuses on political and economic oppression, especially the oppression of Global South or Third World women by people (including women) from wealthy Western nations.

Colonization is also at the heart of American Indian feminism, which provides another feminist perspective at the intersection of gender and ethnicity. American Indian feminism theorizes that the sexism experienced by American Indian women is inextricably linked to the colonization of the indigenous peoples of North America (Smith, 2005). That is, European gender roles, norms, and hierarchies have been imposed on American Indians through colonization, stripping Indian women of their autonomy both as women and as tribal members. In turn, decolonization and sovereignty are understood as a rejection of both gender- and ethnic-based systems of oppression. The rights to land, self-governance, an economic base, and identity, as well as to one’s own body, are all central to American Indian feminism.

The topic of feminisms of color is a delicate one. There is much evidence that American feminism has been dominated by White middle-class women who have put their issues at the top of the agenda while ignoring issues that are more important to people of color and low-income people. At the same time, many women of color may feel that feminism divides their loyalties within their own community and that they should put their energies into fighting racism. A Black woman who seeks to be engaged in both Black Lives Matter and the contemporary feminist movement may find that her particular perspective is not always recognized within each activist movement. This tension demonstrates the importance of an intersectional feminism that promotes equity and equality for all people. When the perspectives and scholarship of diverse feminisms and related social justice movements are integrated, an effective and inclusive feminist movement is achieved.

Experience the Research: Gender Roles and Ethnicity on Prime Time

Identify three current television series (i.e., not reruns) that focus on an African American family. Then identify three comparison series that focus on a European American family. Ideally, choose comparison series that air at the same time as, or perhaps are shown immediately following, the shows about the African American families but on a different station. Observe each program twice. As you observe the programs, answer the following questions:

1. How are gender roles portrayed on the program? Does the main female character have a paying job? What kind of job is it? Does the main male character have a paying job? What is it? Who does the cooking? Who does the grocery shopping?

2. How is the family portrayed on the program? Is it a traditional heterosexual married couple with children, a single parent and their children, a queer couple, or some other kind of family?

3. How is emotional expressiveness portrayed on the program? What emotions do women express? What emotions do men express?

After you have completed your observations, compare the results for the African American family shows and the European American family shows. What are the differences? What are the similarities? What impact do you think these programs have on African American and European American viewers?

Finally, locate three comparable programs that focus on Asian American families, Latinx families, and American Indian families. Were you able to do it? If so, how are gender roles portrayed on those programs?

Chapter Summary

One of the fundamental points of feminist theory is that we must examine not only gender but also ethnicity as powerful forces in people’s lives. To do this, we must go far beyond acknowledging race differences, although we should recognize them when they exist. Similarities across ethnic groups—and there are many—deserve recognition as well. Most importantly, each ethnic group has its own cultural heritage, including its own definitions of gender roles and feminism, and all such heritages exert profound influences on the people from those cultures.

This chapter reviewed the cultural heritages of people of color in the United States, including Asian American persons, Latinx persons, American Indian persons, and African American persons. A recurring theme in the cultural heritages of these groups is subcultural variations. Gender roles across these diverse ethnic groups were also discussed. Reflecting the theme of intersectionality, the experience of gender is both similar and different across ethnic groups.

Immigration is an important force in the lives of many people of color. Experiences may differ across legal immigrants, undocumented immigrants, and refugees. Nonetheless, these groups all share the experiences of leaving one’s home country, sometimes in the context of trauma, and acculturation within the new host culture. Acculturative stress can be exacerbated when immigrants and refugees face discrimination.

Education has long played a powerful role for people of color as a means to improve socioeconomic status and develop opportunities. Still, ethnic/racial disparities in educational attainment persist today.

Research on mental health issues at the intersection of gender and ethnicity finds that depression, PTSD, substance abuse, and other mental health problems can result from sexist and racist oppression. Clinical guidelines for providing culturally informed care to people of color and affirmative care to trans people of color have been developed.

Feminisms of color, such as womanism and mujerismo, are often strengths-based. These perspectives emphasize strengths, agency, resilience, and other positive traits of women of color in the face of sexist and racist oppression.

Suggestions for Further Reading

African American Policy Forum. (2015). Say her name: Resisting police brutality against Black women. New York, NY: Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies. This report builds upon the work of activists and scholars and demonstrates the need for a more intersectional approach to racial justice.

Bryant-Davis, Thema, & Comas-Díaz, Lillian. (2016). Womanist and Mujerista psychologies: Voices of fire, acts of courage. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. This book provides an excellent interdisciplinary review of womanist and mujerista perspectives.