In general, the literature shows that middle class African-American and white women in the professions share similar concerns and experiences as a consequence of sexism. African-American women's responses, however, are shaped by having been socialized (usually) within a cultural context defined and pre-determined to a large extent by race (Slaughter 1972; Gurin and Gaylord 1975; Dumas 1978, 1980; Mitchell 1983; Boykin 1986; Collins 1990; Christian n.d.).

The Sample Population

     In 1986 and 1987, I interviewed a multi-racial/multi-ethnic sample of sixty women faculty members at several midwestern colleges and universities. I conducted follow-up interviews with eleven African-American women from this sample in 1992. At the time of the first interviews in 1986 and 1987, the women ranged in ages from 35 to 70 and were in various stages of their professional careers, holding positions ranging from non-tenure track instructor to semi-retired full professor. Contact with six of these women has been ongoing over the course of the previous decade, which has enabled a fuller understanding of the content of the women's lives and experiences in both the professional and personal domains. During each of the formal interviews, I had asked each woman what she considered the most pressing issues facing her as a woman in academe in general, and as an African-American woman in academe in particular. In the present paper I focus on the responses to the latter concern among this set of midwestern women for whom I have longitudinal data. Their responses reveal the significance of sex-, race-, and class-ism in their professional and personal lives. All names used are pseudonyms.


Bell (1990) defines the bicultural experience of African-American professional women as one that requires building careers in a "white" professional world while maintaining personal lives in African-American communities. The cultural values underlying human interaction in the two worlds are often in conflict. Maintaining a balance between these competing and conflicting value bases can, according to Bell, lead to a sense of stress for the African-American woman who must function effectively in both cultural contexts.


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May 2000