I sat down with one of the strongest teachers in this elementary school. She wanted my help with one of her students, a Black girl with an “attitude.” I asked her to tell me more about the girl.
She says, “She just has an attitude. She’s bossy. She’s mean. She’s a bully. She will tell me what she’s not going to do. She’s very angry.” She then asks if I would facilitate a restorative circle with the girl and her friends.
I told her no.
I was not going to sit down with girls I had never met and try to help them restore a relationship that I knew nothing about. This teacher really didn’t realize how offensive her request was. I know I’m Black Girl Magic, but that doesn’t mean that I am the “attitudinal” Black girl whisperer.
But more importantly, just because I am a black girl doesn’t mean that this girl, or any set of girls, would immediately accept me and listen to me. Respect is built on the foundation of strong relationships, not just on skin color or gender.
What I did do, was give this teacher a chapter of Monique Morris’ phenomenal book PUSHOUT: The criminalization of Black Girls.
The chapter I gave her to read, “A blues for Black girls when the attitude is enuf” which is a homage to Ntozake Shange’s For colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf, opens up describing how others describe that Black girl attitude.
“They’re not docile.”
I once asked a a classroom of college students how they would describe the Black girl “attitude.”
“Neck rolling,” one student yelled out.
“Eye-rolling. Finger snapping,” said another student.
“Just Ghetto,” said another.”
When this amazingly dedicated and talent teacher peeled down her list of negative adjectives to describe this little girl, I knew a lot of it was steeped in her own perspectives of Black women and the ways she is intimidated by Black women.
I didn’t sit there and read the chapter with her. That would have been too aggressive of me, too intimidating because that chapter is in your face with the ways society, and especially educators seek to destroy Black Girl Magic and Black Boy Joy. I trust that she is reflective enough, and that the work we’ve been doing for the last two years has made her heart and mind fertile ground for this seed I planted.
Later that day, I met this Black girl with the attitude and as soon as I saw this little brown beauty, I realized she didn’t have an attitude. She was a Professional Black Girl. I’m going to need you to stop and go on ahead and click on that link, and watch that.
I’ll be here when you get back.
Dr. Yaba Blay did her thing with this web series. It is her contribution to normalizing Blackness and decentering Whiteness as the standard.
Unfortunately, our schools are not safe spaces for Professional Black Girls. The mini Professional Black girl with the attitude had all the style and sass and flavor of a grown ass woman and I instantly was able to see that the only person who needed to change their attitude in this situation was the teacher and not the student.
In her feature in The Atlantic Dr. Monique Morris explains how Black girls are systematically pushed out of schools and into prisons:
“Black girls are 16 percent of girls in schools, but 42 percent of girls receiving corporal punishment, 42 percent of girls expelled with or without educational services, 45 percent of girls with at least one out-of-school suspension, 31 percent of girls referred to law enforcement, and 34 percent of girls arrested on campus. Too often, when people read these statistics, they ask, “What did these girls do?” when often, it’s not about what they did, but rather, the culture of discipline and punishment that leaves little room for error when one is black and female.”
Earlier this year, The National Women’s Law Center released the video Let her learn, which depicts all the ways that black girls are harassed and oppressed in schools just for being black girls; from their hair, to the way they talk, to the ways they stand up for what is right and just.
We begin to PUSHOUT our Black boys and girls in as early as Elementary School because they are professional in their blackness. Now don’t get me wrong, there is not ONLY one way to be Black. Oh no, Blackness comes in all shapes and sizes but I offer you that there is only one way to be Black in our institutions that will allow access to opportunities.
As we approach Women’s History Month, and we begin to find ways to celebrate the impact and influence of women in our society, it is my hope that as we bring forth representations of women for our girls to aspire to be like. I pray that we offer multiple representations of Black Girl Magic. We must be careful to not only have representations of Black girls that follow the image of being docile, quiet or unassuming.
Because as you can see, to the right, whenever white women are cast as strong and capable it is always in the image of black women.
My prayer is that we offer our girls representation of women who are Professional Black Girls. The kind of Black women who take being Black women seriously, so serious it is their profession. Maybe, then, when we see our little black beauties in our classrooms, we no longer label them as angry and violent, or of having an attitude.
Instead, we see leaders, lovers and learners…with a little bit more style and flavor.
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