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Finding My Way to "Black": Identity Formation and the Unlearning of the White Curriculum

Mon, April 20, 8:15 to 9:45am, Virtual Room


Often, discussions about black girlhood are centered on saving black girls from society or from themselves. As such, these discussions make assumptions about black identity: what it means to be black, what it feels like to be black and most importantly that one’s blackness was always known and accepted. However, not all black women grew up as black girls. Thus, it is important to understand the experiences of the women who weren’t born black but still identify as such.

This paper focuses particularly on the ways in which womanhood and black identity are inextricably connected not only in the ways in which society views and polices black girls but also in the ways in which black girls come to be and interact. Womanism (Walker, 2003) is used to analyze and understand how my educational experiences allowed me, an Afro-Dominican immigrant, to deny my blackness in favor of White praise while upholding racialized and gendered stereotypes of black girls.

The paper uses critical autoethnography (Boylorn & Orbe, 2014; Tilley-Lubbs, 2016) to document, reflect and analyze three critical moments in the development of my racial consciousness as a black woman, researcher and educator. Through the use of Critical autoethnography I am able to examine myself as both a victim and a perpetrator of the devaluation and disenfranchising of black girls.

The data originate from journal entries that have been written in the last 22 years as well as recollections and reflections on key moments. The findings indicate that: 1. the educational experiences of immigrant girls heavily shape their capacity to align themselves with Black identity and subsequent social justice issues affecting black communities, 2. Curriculums that conflate blackness with African American experiences create an exclusionary experience for other types of Black girls and 3. Black girl archetypes are used not just to evaluate black girls but also to uphold respectability politics and reinforce White hegemony.

Discourse on black stereotypes often focuses on the representation of the black experience within the mainstream media (Jerald, Ward, Moss, Thomas, & Fletcher, 2017; Townsend, Neilands, Thomas, & Jackson, 2010; Wallace, Townsend, Glasgow, & Ojie, 2011). However, the archetypal presentation of black children, particularly black girls is also prevalent in educational research, policies and practices (Clark, 2015; Epstein, Blake, & González, 2017; Morris, 2007). While researchers continue to construct the experiences of black girls within the categories of good, hood, bad and bougie, they fail to unpack the ways in which the explicit and the hidden curriculum not only erase the nuance of the black female experience but also create and reinforce rigid markers and pious expectations. These narratives are crafted that attests a black woman’s failure and success to her ability to be and do “good”. These narratives also create tenets under which black women can be accepted and rejected by the black community itself. This paper asks how these restrictive narratives and stories impact immigrant girls who present as black but are taught that they aren’t.