A Black Girl’s Crown Changes the Game

“Um to me, being a Black girl is fighting the stereotypes that people have, like about all of us being loud and obnoxious, ghetto, ratchet, promiscuous, and all that.”

Following a Saturday morning arts-based workshop with Deborah, Christa, Unique, Philippi, and Nicole (self-designated pseudonyms), I interviewed girls about their workshop experience. I was also eager to learn about how they defined Black girlhood. Sitting upright in her seat, looking up at the ceiling and then eventually lowering her gaze to meet mine, Unique candidly shared her thoughts. She expressed frustration that despite being smart, serious about her education, and performing an unproblematic comportment, she felt unseen and overshadowed by the negative stereotypes. While it could prove useful to examine the racialized characteristics and the larger archetypes they support—like the thot, welfare queen, hood rat, and even older relics like the jezebel— it is also essential  to hear the reality that fighting is quotidian to being a Black girl.

When a Black girl is bullied and forced to choose between uninterrupted education and self-definition a fight follows. For example, when a Black girl is invited to the front of the room only to be sent back to her seat in tears with a braid missing or denied the experience of taking yearbook photos or required to remove beads in the middle of a game, a fight follows. As anti-Blackness and racialized expectations of femininity converge with loose and subjective interpretations of policies and regulations, Black girls must decide with whom or what they want to brawl. Although frequently attached to girls at each other’s throats, this truism is evidence of how Black girls’ embodiment is marked problematic, something to be policed, a reason for her confinement.

In what ways is justice intimately tied to expression and self-definition?

“I understand hair clips and stuff that’s like on my forehead and stuff. I understand that, cuz it applies to everybody. But ask yourself, who else wears beads? Who else wears things that hang off braids in your hair?”

On April 19, 2021, high school sophomore and softball player Nicole Pyles became the target of anti-Black and gendered microaggressions. After playing a full inning and hitting a double, her beads were suddenly an issue. Nicole’s teammates collaborated to use some bands to secure the beads, and she tucked them into her sports bra. Allowed to return to the field, she helped her team strike out their opponent until it was her turn at bat.

In Nicole’s statement during an interview with The News & Observer, she made plain that the decision to label her hair a problem at this particular moment was both unethical and unnecessary. In addition to playing the first inning of the game on April 19, Nicole had played the first four games of the tournament with no issue.

The coach of the opposing team first brought attention to her hair, claiming it obstructed her jersey number, and then an umpire gave Nicole the ultimatum to remove the beads or sit out of the game. To Nicole, these were fighting words. Appalled by the demand and aware that the call wasn’t really about following a rule, she firmly and candidly communicated, “And so I made the decision that I was gonna remove my beads and I was gonna play my game.” The groundedness of Nicole’s deliberation can be understood as a transgressive act, one wherein a boundary is crossed in the name of a benefit, a desire, and in this case, an insistence on doing what she came to do: play (and win) her game.

Only the opposing team’s coach knows his true motivations for rigidly enforcing the rules at that particular moment. However, it would not be the first time a Black girls’ adornment or expression of self has rattled others, nor the first injustice endured due to hair stylization. They changed the game on Nicole. Under pressure from the other team’s coach, the umpire decided to invoke the code, placing full responsibility and blame on Nicole and her coach in the final hour of the tournament. Perhaps they bet on her having a different response to their push, that she would get rightfully indignant, loud, or disheveled. Being a Black girl requires us to choose our opponents carefully. Nicole decided to place her undivided attention on the game and fight her battle off the field.

What do Black girls’ deliberations about their bodies teach us?

In the face of varying textures of injustice, Black girls are inviting us to practice reliability. While there was no physical altercation on the field, the restriction of beads in the rules and the after-the-fact argument that her number was covered by her hair revealed the foul play afoot.

From over a decade of work with Black girls, reliability emerged as a pedagogy and tenet, a way to represent Black girls and the lessons they gift. Returning to Unique’s statement about fighting stereotypes and Black girlhood, to practice reliability with Black girls requires that their self-definition is welcomed. It is to ensure that rules and policies involving their livelihood are based on actual concerns of harm. To practice Black girl reliability in Nicole’s case would have meant breaking out into the game ‘Little Sally Walker’ cheering, “Gon’ girl, do yo thang, do yo thang, do yo thang, switch,” because she was on her game and her beads weren’t bothering nobody.

It would have meant leaving her be and believing in Nicole’s assessment of potential injury, her hair, and the game she came to win and wanted to play. When we say Black girls’ names, let it be in exaltation. Black girls everywhere are demanding that we see the injustice in denying their flavor, especially in spaces where they aren’t expected to be or shine. It’s up to all of us to listen.

Read Hill’s piece in the #SayHerName symposium here.

Dominique C. Hill, PhD, is a Blackqueer feminist whose written and performed scholarship interrogates Black embodiment with foci in girlhood, education, and artistic expression. Hill, in research and praxis, seeks to extend the field of Black girlhood studies as an assistant professor of Women’s Studies at Colgate University.

“We ‘said her name’ and got zucked”: Black Women Calling-out of Digital Platforms

It’s like we are out of place. Like we are taking up too much space. Our concerns and voices are never heard. But we show up and show out all the time… We’re like space invaders, until some work needs to be done. Then they call us.

Raneisha*

This poignant, concise, and powerful comment was made after a Rekia Boyd rally organized by activists in New York City, late spring of 2015. Raneisha posted this Facebook message while remarking on how few people showed up to the rally, a stark contrast to the Freddie Gray and Eric Garner rallies in the same city previously. In this small statement she uttered a common refrain that Black women report about their experiences within social movements of being ignored, overworked, and undervalued. Later in that same Facebook post, Raniesha commented that her post might get removed for being too vocal and critical of  racism and sexism. This punitive practice of getting banned or having a post removed by Facebook is known as getting “zucked.”

In our essay, we explore the concept of getting “zucked” as part of larger trends within digital platforms that punish Black women online for expressing their distress at the inequalities they experience. According to Urban Dictionary user Saikh, getting zucked is when your expression is sucked out of you by Mark Zuckerberg’s mysterious Facebook community standards. 

The play on words is to indicate the parallel of getting ‘fucked’ by Zuckerberg. While this rhetoric certainly has gendered and homophobic undertones, it also reflects rape culture in terms of the unwanted intrusion by an outside entity.

Urban Dictionary user Raiayyyyyy defines it as, “we got fucked by zuck”. This process, as perceived by Black women, is one where the existing policies on digital spaces are not objective or race-neutral but instead continue a practice of centering whiteness as the normal operating system. Digital platforms have become places that  police, surveil, and criminalize Black women’s practices around micromobilizing.

Black women connect with one another and voice their concerns and demands for justice in digital spaces.  Twitter can function as a sanctuary or safe space to engage with others outside of a traditional face-to-face interaction. The use of hashtags opens a space for issues to be acknowledged and discussed without judgment, which allows for voices in the margins to be heard and to type back about erasure of Black female narratives. Through digital interactions, Black women as invisible victims of state and/or personal violence can be heard.  Black women center Blackness in their digital practices to show their refusal to be erased or ignored.

While getting “zucked” might seem like an innocent response to violation of terms of service, Black women suggest that this practice disparately targets them for speaking back to racist and sexist incidents on and offline. Black women are more likely to get “zucked” when they focus on police violence and the intersection of compounding harms. There is a correlation between increased content using the #SayHerName hashtag and  Facebook’s disciplining of Black women’s presence. In our essay, we show how Black women are punished within digital platforms as the latest iteration of cultural policing  that contributes to the subjugation of Black women online and off.

Dr. Kishonna L. Gray (@KishonnaGray) is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois – Chicago. She is also a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. She also previously served as a MLK Scholar and Visiting Professor in Women and Gender Studies and Comparative Media Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dr. Gray is an interdisciplinary, intersectional, digital media scholar whose areas of research include identity, performance and online environments, embodied deviance, cultural production, video games, and Black Cyberfeminism.

Krysten Stein (she/her/hers) (@stein_krysten) is a first-generation, interdisciplinary Ph.D. student studying Communication and Media with concentrations in Gender and Women’s Studies and Black Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She investigates how television, digital media, and popular culture are intertwined with systems of power and marginalized identities. Rooted in critical/cultural studies, utilizing an intersectional feminist lens, her writing and research focuses on media industries, political economy, cultural production and representation.

Women-Led Movements versus Mixed-Gender Movements 

By Manisha Desai

From Black lives Matter to the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton women leaders are highly visible in politics not only in the United States but also around the world.  In her article in Yes!,  Rucha Chitnis argues that in the context of economic injustice stemming from corporate capitalism and climate change, movements led by women are offering a revolutionary path.  This path includes a redefinition of leadership – one that is collective and collaborative rather than focused on an individual – and development – one that challenges the myth of  “there is no alternative” to neoliberal capitalist development.  It understands issues and oppressions based on race, class, sexuality, disability as interconnected and privileges solidarity and movement building as the best response to marginalization and exclusion.

She provides important examples of women’s movements from around the world to demonstrate this.  For example, in the U.S. #Say Her Name campaign highlights how police brutality affects Black women as a corrective to mainstream media focus on Black men.  Via Campesina, a movement of peasants, landless farmers, small producers, and indigenous communities that originated in Brazil but now spans the globe, chose this International Women’s Day, March 8th, to challenge the capitalist violence perpetrated against women and men all around the world.

I had made a similar argument in my book Gender and the Politics of Possibilities, that global politics, which I defined as transnational activism of non-state actors, including movements, against a variety of global issues was essentially feminist politics as it was based on the practices and principles of women’s movements around the world.  While women-led movements continue to chart a revolutionary path, mixed gender movements demonstrate a less radical trajectory. Continue reading “Women-Led Movements versus Mixed-Gender Movements ”