These pasts few weeks seen multiple photos of all the beautiful young girls headed off to their first weeks of school. Everything from the hair, the clothing, and the new school year highs are an amazing sight to see. Through all of that I have to take a moment to think about what happens once these young girls are no longer behind the scope of their parents camera lens but in the hands of institutions that are meant to enhance, protect and enrich their lives. What will these young girls face? Will they be shunned for their natural hair, over sexualized because of their body type or will their female femininity be masculinized because Black girls are meant to be strong. Will our girls thrive?
What I fear most are the facts; and situations that have already occurred across the country that are at most shocking and hurtful to read. In 2013, Ashlynn Avery a 16 year-old diabetic girl in Alabama fell asleep while reading a book at her in-school suspension. Ashlynn who had not woken up when the suspension supervisor had asked was allegedly met with violence. As Ashlynn was exiting the room she had a book thrown at her and a police officer allegedly slammed her face into a filing cabinet. In 2015, a 15-year-old girl was slammed to the ground by an officer who then pinned her underneath his knee. In the same year two 15-year-old twins in Boston were faced with possible detention and suspension because the administration had said their braided hairstyles violated the school dress code. These are the very situations that shape our young girls lives and show them what they should perceive the rest of the world to be.
I want to take a deeper look into why our girls are so often met with violence and more suspensions and expulsions than that of their white and Hispanic counterparts. In the remarkable writings of Monique W. Morris’ book Pushout : The Criminalization of Black Girls In Schools which I will be citing throughout she stated that “ Through stories we find that Black girls are greatly affected by the stigma of having to participate in identity politics that marginalize them or place them into polarizing categories; they are either “ Good” or “Ghetto” girls who behave in ways that exacerbate stereotypes about black femininity, particularly those relating to socioeconomic status, crime, and punishments.” These stereotypes and harsh stigmas are troubling to me because I too faced the struggle of not being able to be myself in school and even now in the work place. The fact that Black girls have to be particular about the way they speak, dress, and the way that their personality is received in that setting more than the quality of education is the real distraction.
The concern that we should all have is the investment that the school systems are making in our young girls; the time they are spending to really understand who they are and their needs. So often the Black girl is not seen for who she is but the narrative that the stereotype that has been place on her is perceived to be. Monique states in her book “The public’s collective consciousness, latent ideas about Black females as hypersexual, conniving, loud, and sassy predominate, even if they make it to college and beyond. Public presentations of theses caricatures-via popular memes on social media, in advertising, or in entertainment- prescribe these traits to Black women.” This is not only how Black girls are seen but how some see themselves as well.
The most moving piece of her writing that still speaks to me as an adult is where she states that “Black women and girls in America are subjected to dormant assumptions about their sexuality, their “anger”, or their “attitude.” They have long understood that their way of engaging with the world- how they talk, how they walk, how they wear their hair, or how they hold their bodies- is subject to scrutiny, especially by those in position of relative power. They feel the gaze. They intuit its presence. They live with this knowledge in their bodies and subconsciously wrestle with every critique of how they navigate their environments.” “Today, Black girls across the country are struggling to make meaning of their status as Black, female, and disproportionately represented in high-poverty, low-performing schools. They use terms like “ghetto” and “ratchet” to describe their condition and are collectively engaged in the creation of counter narratives that allow them to move through life with dignity-but it’s not easy.
So what is our role as Black women who are seeing our children, nieces, cousins and young girls off to school? I feel as though it is our responsibility to take action and continue to create our own narratives. The more we promote ourselves as strong leaders who are nurturers as well the more our youth will emulate. They deserve a chance to be themselves and follow their dreams to whatever heights but they must see the possibility in the woman that have come before them. Our social media presence is no longer just our own; we are setting the tone for what our young Black girls aspire to be. Mothers I implore you to talk to your daughters and really inquire about what is going on in their day to day experiences at school. I ask every woman who is reading this to be the woman that you needed as a girl; and once we take a look at who that woman is I can only imagine the change.