What do black girls dream of?

Ms. has a short but thoughtful article on Oprah Winfrey’s school for African girls that might be useful for teachers.  Without denigrating what is being attempted, the author reminds us that goals and ambitions are being brought to the girls; in a real way, they end up absorbed into the corporate world, which is hardly sensitive to their perspective.  As a quote has it:

“When [people] approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.”
—RALPH ELLISON, INVISIBLE MAN (1952)

The article, by Nikki Ayanna Stewart, is a reminder of some important contributions black women’s studies have been made.   Among them is:

At the core of black women’s studies is an insistence on building knowledge from black female points of view. Historically, almost all knowledge within Western culture has been built from a white male point of view; “others” could only gain credibility by first mastering and then carefully innovating within what black feminist scholar Patricia Hill Collins calls “Eurocentric masculinist” traditions. When black women’s views become central, new concepts and ways of thinking emerge.

The article also contains an implicit invitation for the girls to speak of their own experience, since

Both Winfrey’s mainstream project and black-feminist alternatives seem influenced by a desire to work through issues faced by black girls in the past—perhaps even issues from the producers’ own remembered girlhoods.

There is a lot more thought in Stewart’s short piece.

5 thoughts on “What do black girls dream of?

  1. I’m no expert nor do I make any claim to relevance, but is Stewart’s piece really that much different from Winfrey’s take? I take exception to “Most importantly, can we learn from them how to create books, films/videos and interactive media that could transform K-12 curricula in the same way that the materials emerging from black women’s studies have transformed higher education?”; how’s that “most important”, exactly?

    My point is that we should endeavor to listen to what these girls have to say without any thoughts of how we can use that testimony to further our own predefined goals. Otherwise we are just using them in the exact same way as the ones we deride. Please don’t take this as an attack on these goals, I wholeheartedly agree with these. But my own experience as a feminist was tempered by how actual impoverished women expressed their feelings and experience. I’m not preaching for acceptance of established mores; all I’m saying is that it’s dangerously easy to take our privileged outlook for granted. Some humility is in order here, listen first and always; I think that’s putting our favored condition to good use: giving a voice to those who are condemned to silence.

  2. Counterfnord,

    You raise an interesting and delicate issue. I’m not sure the article is completely clear about why she thinks that’s most important, but I read it in terms of these comments:

    Black girls also lack opportunities to build knowledge from their own points of view, and thus communicate their distinct perspectives on the world….

    My heart bleeds for every black girl on the planet, the vast majority of whom have never had messages about their intrinsic value reflected back to them.

    But now I want to know what contemporary black girls are thinking and seeing for themselves. How do they make sense out of their media landscape, and what are their politics outside of our adult agendas?

    I expect she is trying to listen and give a voice to those who are silenced. The goals she has are to transform the culture into which, at least in this country, the girls are mandated by law to participate in; she is combating their silencing.

    The author, herself recently a Black girl, also participates in mentoring, so the goal she has may be the product of a lot of engagement.

  3. Thanks for the background information, it does clarify things for me. On reading her piece again, I saw it makes a lot of sense, as she is not writing about these particular South African girls, but about African American girls. I guess I should heed my own advice and refrain from projecting my own ideas onto what others say!

  4. Counterfnord,

    Thanks for your generous agreement. If you manage to become perfect, please, please tell us how it was done. ;)

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