I Still Am and Will Always Be a Black Girl

Photo credit: Deposit Photos
by Carolyn Strong

Black Girls Rock, Black Girls Run, Black Girl Nerds.

It seems that in this society Black girls can do a lot… except just be a Black Girl. With African-American women struggling to find out where they fit into our country’s narrative, we have so many descriptions of us floating around that it occasionally gets hard to keep up. But somehow the most basic way that we can describe ourselves is sometimes met with derision—from Blacks and non-Blacks alike.

My name is Carolyn, and I am a black girl. From the moment that I was born, I was a black girl and that will never change. People often ask why I have embraced this term over “Black woman,” and why I use it so freely in my work. I feel inclined to tell them that it just feels right. It is just the term that best defines me: spiritually, politically, and socially.

Growing up, my mother would always tell me, “Stop acting like a girl! Grow up and be a woman.”

I never really understood the distinction until I got older, and I started to watch older black women maneuver in social circles. There was a clear distinction in how women behaved versus how a girl behaved. There was a certain amount of pride they felt in being women, separate from what it felt like being a girl. Culturally, Black women have been ignored and disrespected for so long, that anything that takes away from the respect that they feel that they have garnered for themselves is deemed inappropriate. As a child, you learn very quickly that you must address Black women respectfully. My mother would say, “Put a handle on my name.” And I knew that I must address all of my elders as “Miss” or “Aunty.” If not, it would quickly become a problem.

I believe that this phenomenon plays a huge role in the rejection of the term “Black Girl.” For many, the term is a throwback to the Old South, when African-American women were deliberately slighted and minimized by Whites. Just as African-American men were called “boy.” This was done to insinuate that they were seen inferior, like children—and thus, did not need to be shown the same respect as adult white people. Likewise, women were often referred to as “girl” or “gal” to evoke the same feelings. As a result, I can understand how some older women of color might reject the term. But I assert that there are other things that being a girl means culturally, and we have allowed ourselves to forget these things.

For example, there is a certain innocence and purity that is attributed to “girlhood” that African-American women quite frankly have been historically denied. African-American girls are often labeled as aggressive, for our confidence and willingness to speak our minds, while white girls with similar behaviors are labeled assertive and confident. White “girlhood” must be protected at all costs; Black “girlhood” is seen as nonexistent. This protection of white girls over Black girls often extends into adulthood as well.

For recent evidence of this, look no further than the Iggy Azalea vs. Snoop Dogg beef. The feud began when Snoop Dogg reposted an unflattering picture of someone with the caption, “Iggy Azalea with no makeup.” In that instant, a social media war was waged, with the two going back and forth. Eventually rapper T.I. came to Iggy’s rescue, Snoop Dogg apologized, and all was right in the universe once more. But the incident begs the question: Where are these knights in shining armor when black women are threatened? Ironically, T.I., who so willingly came to the aid of a “white girl” when she was threatened with violence, was involved in a beef of his own with Black female hip hop artist Azealia Banks. In response to her tweets calling his wife ugly, T.I. threatened to “end” Banks, and push her down the stairs. This is perfect example of protecting white “girlhood” while leaving black women to fend for themselves.

It is interesting that Iggy must be protected and her innocence needs to remain intact. Even as a grown woman, others must come to her rescue. But what about people Blue Ivy, who is picked apart by social media every day? No one comes to her aid, and she is only a toddler. Is her two-year-old virtue not worth protecting?

If you look up the term girl in the dictionary, you immediately see the most popular definition: a female child from birth to adolescence. Girl is also used as a synonym for daughter. Thus, girl can be used as a unifying term for Black women of all ages based on the fact that we have all once been girls, have all once been someone’s daughter. This is how I view the term, this is how I use the term: Every black woman on this planet is someone’s daughter. No matter where is she is in life and no matter what she is dealing with, she matters to someone.

And this Black Girl quite frankly just can’t find the harm in recognizing that.

Carolyn Strong is an educator in the Chicagoland area. She is the author of Black Girl Blues: Small Group Sessions, Discussion and Activities to Combat Intra-Racial Bullying, and can be reached through www.bulliesstink.com.

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