May 18th, 2020

How do you define literacy for Black girls?

Black girls are in a position to not only confront gender bias but racial bias and discrimination. The concern over the literacy gap can be effectively addressed by understanding the unique challenges that Black girls face. Each and every child deserves the right to discover the power in critical literacies to not only express identity awareness but address systems of oppression with the confidence to change them if they see fit. While COVID has caused a lot of systems and educational plans to go awry, I think it is important to look at some of the tools and assets we overlooked in our classrooms before this pandemic began, our very students and their unique cultural assets, like hair. Due to the gendered and racially specific challenges that Black girls face, I suggest a framework that caters to this uniqueness. To do so, I suggest a reference to Muhammad (2018) research on a four layered equity model to reframing literacy education. Within the model, identity, skills, intellect and criticality are used as a basis to develop curriculum and methods of instruction. COVID has continued a dangerous narrative for Black people and girls but focusing on identity and criticality within curriculum and instruction can help students not only learn to love reading but interact with the hidden and blunt messages that surround their worlds. Natural hair is being used to promote not only literacy and identity development but according to Dr. Afiya, a psychologist and natural hair enthusiast, an entry point for mental health services. The latter I find particularly necessary as students will need support in their curriculum, from each other through peer to peer mentoring, and the educators to use as many culturally specific tools to thrive in affinity spaces that exist in person, digitally and within their everyday community experiences. When I think of how Hair Love by Matthew Cherry inspired so many Black families in and outside of Los Angeles to open up and have a discussion about mental health, representation, and literacy, it made me have hope that the required text and literatures used in ELA classrooms and beyond might be more encouraged to make sure Black girls can feel seen in their curriculum and understood through modes of instruction. Whether teachers host virtual sister circles or access the countless lesson plans online that use hair as a framework for literacy, it can be an adjustment that empowers the child and teacher while creating a new culture of culturally equitable learning practices. A lot of people within the natural hair community in Los Angeles have expressed wanting to support educators in infusing this into learning if they are open to it. I hope that we can continue these conversations as it has done wonders for the classrooms I’ve noticed embrace this shift.

Tags: community building, equity, Integrating SEL into academics, Mental health, relationships, restorative practices, SEL & Remote learning

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Comments (4)

Comments (4)

Literacy for black girls... There is quite a bit to tackle in the response. I believe that it is absolutely essential for black girls to see themselves in the literature they read. A requisite of literature class is for students to be able to CONNECT. Brown and black students rarely see themselves in textbooks or novels as morally excellent or righteous. Our brown and black girls question their worth, their excellence, they beauty, and their power in the classroom because they rarely see themselves in positive light in the literature they read. The literature our brown and black students learn about is their slavery to the superior white man, their slavery to the system of violence, and their slavery to the constant depiction on social media reminding them that they will never be (or have) enough. I agree with Nneka, we MUST make this educational shift to empower our brown and black girls but also and brown and black communities.

-Sade Stigger

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Thank you for your response! I think that you brought an interesting point up about Black and Brown girls not seeing themselves in a positive light within literature used to promote learning. When your community doesn’t necessarily offer you positive depictions of self and the critical literacy tools to do more than survive, education has to help pick up that shortcoming.

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Hi Nneka:
Thanks for joining our conversation and raising this issue. What additional supports do you need to reach these girls? What if they aren't back in a physical classroom in the fall?

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To help facilitate this, educators should have access to and be encouraged to use literature and learning materials that feature Black girls as they are with respect to their hair and bodies. Creating opportunities for local bookstores and publishers to support this would be a wonderful way to bring in community support while creating more culturally equitable content and strategies for Black girls critical literacies. A system could be arranged in which a database of online learning materials were available to educators and students. The database could potentially have a compilation of news articles, age appropriate YouTube videos, digital books and more.

Another idea in lieu of the physical distance would be to host African-American Read-In (AARI) for students. Teachers choose a book, sometimes in collaboration with the class and everyone read aloud and discuss the book critically. Local authors could be invited to give zoom chats with students to discuss books, which gives them a chance to meet and discuss texts, video clips, and more that make their realities visible. Thank you for the response!

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