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Vol. 18 (2005 Spring)

Overcoming Injustice: A Tradition of Resilience

June 1, 2023


Numerous studies have explored the concept of resilience and its influence in the face of alienation, adversity, or abnormality (Benard, 1991; Cairns & Cairns, 1994; Gordon, 1995; Krovetz, Speck, & Luther, 1991; Werner, Smith, & Sagor, 1996). Even more noteworthy, a significant body of this research has considered the role of resilience in the management of social complexities such as gender bias and institutional racism (Bressler, 1967; Centra, 1970; Davis, Loeb, & Robinson, 1970; Heussenstamm, & Hoefner, 1971; Kiernan & Daniels, 1967; Marjoriebanks, 1980; Middleton, 1963; Newman, 1980; Reed, McMillan, & McBee, 1995; Seginer, 1986; Solomon, 1989; Taylor, 1970; Wilson, 1979).

Gordon’s (1995) work views resilience as the ability to thrive, mature, and increase competence when confronted with adverse circumstances. These circumstances, which can be either biological or environmental, become obstacles as one attempts to increase social competence. Sometimes the circumstance may be chronic and consistent and other times severe and infrequent. In any case, it represents a loss of opportunity to thrive, mature, and increase capacity for competence. Studies by Gordon (1995) and Luther (1991) found that resilient people possess an internal locus of control, not found in non-resilient people, and that the resulting social competence held by the former group plays an important role in overcoming stressful situations.

Dealing with racism at school, in the workplace, in neighborhoods, and in business has long been a stressful situation for African Americans. It is one of the primary forms of adversity with which resilience researchers have concerned themselves (Bressler, 1967; Centra, 1970; Chesley-Carter, 1998; Davis, Loeb, & Robinson, 1970; Kiernan & Daniels, 1967; Taylor, 1970).

From these studies that link resilience to racial prejudice, several things are clear. People need 1) cultural identity, 2) psychological acceptance, 3) feelings of relevance, and 4) fulfillment of cultural needs and goals. Another thing that the research on resilience tells us is that people need people. In study after study (Cairns & Cairns, 1994; Christenson, 1992; Garmezy, 1991; Gordon, 1995; Jorgensen, 1979), it appears that the influence of a dependable role model, constant buddy, or a caring adult figure (in the case of youth) is a highly significant factor in one’s overcoming obstacles.