Toward the end of 2017, I had the honor to not only attend, but to present at the NAIS POCC (National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference) in Anaheim, CA. This conference which felt like the Essence Awards meets Tony Robbins with a high dose of diversity and inclusion was to say the least, amazing. The presentations, incubation sessions and on-going affinity circles were educational, inspiring and much needed as prime examples of relationship and community building, healing and leaps forward. My workshop focused on Black Girl Magic and how young girls of color navigate this trending path and claim it as a means of personal and culture expression and agency; specifically within the independent school community.
You may think I'm preaching to the choir here, I mean, this site is culture-responsive and inclusive, so naturally you know about BGM - I mean who doesn't, right? Yet what I continually observe in my work for LSP and the IB is that, what to some is common knowledge, to others is a newsflash. During the workshop, there were a handful of participants who did not know what BGM was much less have an understanding of how the slogan and movement could impact a girl's experience in school, how colors of color are recruited, why assumptive affinity circles (meaning ones based solely on external criteria like gender or race) can prove more divisive than inclusive or equitable. So despite a valid feeling of "always being the teacher", consider it an opportunity to share knowledge and intiate solutions-oriented dialogue. When you know, you do better (hopefully). So lets make sure people know!
#BlackGirlMagic has been trending on the social media sites for quite some time now. It was started by CaShawn Thompson in 2013 for celebrating Black Girls online. #BlackGirlMagic celebrates one’s identity. It is used by Black girls to label their lives, behavior and even their looks as magic. It is all about celebrating the empowerment, beauty and resilience of Black girls. While it was founded to counteract the negative attitude that society has towards Black girls, it has now become a platform where women of color stand together against such negative attitude.
"We are all created equal" aside, let’s accept the fact that being a Black girl in this world, particularly at this time, is unique and not just because of skin color. Black girls differ from the white folk in a lot of ways, their history, ancestry, culture and yet not every Black girl's experience, values, or perspective is the same. We are equal but not alike. However, cultural differences and societal inequities aside, Black girls are in all other ways, exactly like the white girls they study and grow up with. They are complex, individual, shy, outgoing, stunning, health-conscious, sensitive, ambitious, have dreams and are made of sugar, spice and all things nice, exactly like their counterparts.
When Black girls, in a bid to find their magic, embrace their cultural identity, they are met with a lot of resistance. There have been so many reports where Black girls have been falsely accused, or handed more punishment than their white counterparts. In one instance, two Black girls were kicked out of school for wearing braids in their hair. Their school's administration struggled (or refused) to understand that braids aren’t a ‘style’ statement for Black girls, they are a cultural statement. They are as essential to their identity as a turban to a Sikh or a Hijab to a Muslim woman. These form her identity and boost her confidence, especially in cases where she is one of few or being singled out.
For many Black girls and women, even when they adapt to mass society’s norms and mainstream culture, they are treated as an outsider and met with resistance or tokenism. So, by embracing her culture and the BGM momentum, a Black girl is trying to take back control of her image, life and identity. She is trying to find the magic in her. The differences that make her different, but also unique. She isn’t Magical, she’s very much real as are her struggles. Rising above these obstacles and winning her own space in this world is what is magical for her.
Young girls who are Black or Brown are already struggling with the marginalization that the society has created for them. If they are loud, their culture is blamed and they are asked to sit back down. In case they are quiet, they become invisible and lose their identity. The community of teachers, parents and everybody in between must work towards supporting the Black girl’s sense of herself as she defines it; above and beyond the propping up of any hashtag. For starters, we need to stop stereotyping them. We cannot expect them to adhere to the general patterns and fall into neat and pretty little labeled boxes. Second, we need to challenge them exactly as we would challenge the White girls and give them all the same opportunities to succeed. They will rise because they are strong, bright, resilient, and creative girls.
Let’s all help her get her bit of magic in her life!
For more insight on the path of Black girls within independent schools, read here.