Me, The Girls & Adjectives

On Wednesdays I lead a workshop consisting solely of girls from 4-5:30. There are about 20 of them in grades 9-12 and it’s a really good mix. Last week was our first full session and I wanted to discuss this article by Britni Danielle which discusses the roles and lifestyles that Black girls confine themselves to, how those roles are dictated by Blackness itself and how to escape the Black Box we often find ourselves in.

I began the session by having the girls write down all the adjectives for Black girls, either defined by them or others, they could think of within 10 minutes. I then put them in groups and had them narrow down their group lists to 10 or so words. We then went a round the room, listened, and came up with one list. Here it is:

As you may have guessed: red is bad, green is good and the purple is in-between, or subjective. What happened over the next hour was a heated discussion that included: street harassment, sexuality, self-respect, and more. We didn’t even get a chance to get into the article, but we ended on the question: what does it mean to “act white” which is an excellent starting point for our next workshop.

What’s interesting to note is that the negative list is almost twice as long as the positive list and my question to them at our next meeting is going to be why? I was thinking, once our list was created, that it’s a damn shame that there aren’t more positive attributes. In our discussion, the notion that they get their cues from who they are/ought to be not only from mass media, but the opposite sex — even the two girls in the group who do not consider themselves to be heterosexual acknowledged this.

As an aside, all of the girls in the group are intelligent, hard-working, average teenagers; the kind that you’d see on a coming of age dramedy, if they ever made one with Black kids. I digress…

I was/am really bothered by the length of the negative list and to be honest, I am not sure that “strong” should be in the positive list, particularly since the stereotype of the “Strong Black Woman” constantly recasts us in the role of mammy/martyr and more often than not, prevents us from seeking support. I’ve been thinking about all of the ways self-hatred manifests itself, and how it, seemingly easily, can sneak into the psyche undetected. I’m not saying that these young women are stewing in a hot pot of self-loathing, but…well, but.

From this, I can see that this semester is going to deal a lot with media literacy and deconstructing the messages they also receive at home, school, and while out in the community. On the last day, I am going to have them do this same exercise and see what they come up with.