Date of Award

January 2020

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


School of Public Health

First Advisor

Katie Wang


Persons who experience intimate partner violence (IPV) have higher rates of chronic disease. This is thought to be due, in part, to the adoption of health risk coping behaviors, as well as the detrimental biological response to chronic stress associated with violence. The role of colorism (perceived skin tone discrimination) in the experiences of victims of IPV, their stress and stress coping behaviors has not previously been examined. The objective of this study was to explore the intersecting experience of black skin, coping strategies and stress among women with IPV histories in Barbados. Women above the age of 18, who self-identified as having a history of IPV were recruited at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital psychiatry unit and Barbados Professional Women (BPW) shelter for abused women (N=54).There were no significant demographic differences between participants who self-reported as having lighter versus darker skin tones, yet variations in stress coping, skin tone attitudes, and perceived risk of chronic disease arose. Specifically, compared with darker participants, lighter participants had higher colorism perception and engaged in more frequent coping strategies, but there was no difference in proportion reporting high versus moderate stress; however, participants with darker skin tones perceived themselves to be at higher risk for heart attacks and strokes. A multiple regression analysis further revealed a significant interaction between maladaptive coping and colorism, such that the effect modification demonstrated leads us to conclude that the effect of colorism on stress is shaped by how individuals choose to cope. Through a series of individual, semi structured interviews (N=11) with a purposeful sample we identified challenges to trust formation, institutional suspicions, and explored managing constraints. Additionally through an inductive grounded theory framework, respondents highlighted a sense of antagonism driving colorism while suggesting larger systems at play. This perception commonly was associated with early childhood self conceptualization arcs that are reinforced throughout the lifespan. Results from this study will serve as guidance for further inquiry about the experiences of black women navigating society globally.


This is an Open Access Thesis.

Open Access

This Article is Open Access