I recently attended the #BlackGirlsMatter session at AERA, the largest educational research organization in the country. This conference panel of dynamic, brilliant women left me with feelings of joy, hope, fortitude, and a charge in knowing there is still work to be done. These are my reflections.
In many places across the country, we have seen rallies and gatherings proclaiming and protesting that Black lives matter. Images of Black fists raised in the air coupled with melodic chants that ensue a sense of resiliency and community. No Justice. No Peace. Black lives matter.
As Black women, who have historically been and currently are avid initiators and supporters of such movements, we would like to think that we find our place in this particular space. And the short answer is that we most certainly do. We are Black, we possess life, and we matter. But what does this sense of mattering mean? What about us matters? What about us is valued? And to whom?
Black lives matter is a movement that may have stemmed from police brutality but goes beyond police brutality. Take into account the political, economic, and educational disenfranchisement of a people; Black lives matter is about respectability, citizenship, and pure justice.
It is important for us to consider the intersectionality of these identities and how they play out contextually. One’s experience as a Black woman is very different than that of a Black man, a queer Black woman, a poor Black man, a wealthy queer Black man, a poor uneducated Black woman, etc. Various identities denote various oppressions resulting in various experiences, interactions, and privileges. It’s just different.
Black lives matter was founded on this understanding of difference within the community and recognizing the intersectionality of citizenship, sexuality, gender, and ability.
So, why do we need to say #BlackGirlsMatter?
We need to say #BlackGirlsMatter because less than 2% of the nation’s full tenured professorship are Black women (LPD).
We need to say #BlackGirlsMatter because our bodies continue to be over sexualized, our hair over analyzed, and our personalities over criticized.
We need to say #BlackGirlsMatter because Black women in the academy are considered “academic afterTHOTS (The Help Over There)” (LPD).
We need to say #BlackGirlsMatter because the traditional conservative church still sees a woman’s place in the pew, the kitchen, or office, but not as a Pastor in the pulpit.
We need to say #BlackGirlsMatter because Black graduate women suffer the most in silence and often experience institutional discrimination resulting in various psychosocial issues.
We need to say #BlackGirlsMatter because the violence of women is often silenced or misappropriated to blaming the victim.
We need to say #BlackGirlsMatter because their (our) trauma is often mistaken as behavioral problems and acting out (BL).
We need to say #BlackGirlsMatter because we must acknowledge the violence within the community that attacks the minds of our girls and women (MHP). Mind control is a very powerful weapon.
We need to say #BlackGirlsMatter simply because we need to #SayHerName: Ruby Bridges, Elizabeth Eckford, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Alesia Thomas, Shantel Davis…..
We need to say #BlackGirlsMatter because as Dr. Bettina Love so eloquently stated, ‘we must stop relying on our Blackness to save us’.
Yes, Blackness, or the negotiation of Blackness, in the United States has the power to bind and the power to unite. However, skin complexion does not equate to an understanding of social ills, policy, and activism. As Zora Neal Hurston and my ancestors would say, ‘all skinfolk ain’t yo kinfolk’ baby.
Black girls and Black women have mattered and continue to matter. This panel confirmed our position and reminded us of the value we hold. Many women (and men) gathered in this place, a space where scholarly knowledge is produced and shared. Yet, what embodied this #AERABlackGirlsMatter was more than a production of knowledge. It was a production of love, a production of authenticity, and a shared sense of belonging and mattering; if not for anyone else, certainly for ourselves.
Melissa Harris-Perry (MHP), you matter.
Lori Patton Davis (LPD), you matter.
Adrienne Dixson (AD), you matter.
Bettina Love (BL), you matter.
April Peters (AP), you matter.
Thank you for reminding us all that #BlackGirlsMatter.
Atiya S. Strothers is a doctoral candidate at Rutgers. She was recently selected to serve on an AERA panel discussing The Next 100 years of Doctoral Preparation in Education, and serves as the senior representative for AERA Division F: History & Historiography.