Ruth Nicole Brown is an assistant professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the author of Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy. She recently answered some questions about her new UIP book Hear Our Truths: The Creative Potential of Black Girlhood.
Q: The title, Hear Our Truths, comes from an organization you founded: Save Our Lives Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT). How does SOLHOT function as an organization?
Ruth Nicole Brown: Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths celebrates Black girlhood in all of its complexity. It functions as a collective of people who are willing to do the work of meeting Black girls where they are, often after-school, to discuss ideas they think are important. SOLHOT often relies on the arts and creative ways of knowing to travel from our circumstances, to critique, and to actually practicing the kind of justice we desire for Black girls throughout the African diaspora.
Q: Why is it important for Black girls to claim their own space?
Brown: Black girls are often sidelined as less important than so many other people that to make space to intentionally affirm Black girlhood is necessary to Black girls and those who love them. Affirming Black girls makes it possible to not only think about the power of Black girlhood as more than an identity, but it also creates an impetus for putting into motion new ideas about power, community, and social justice. For example, SOLHOT is less about owning space and more about transforming spaces to be accountable to Black girls. To know the full power of Black girl genius is next level SOLHOT where we actually remaster space and time toward the collective and creative potential of Black girlhood.
Q: How can SOLHOT exist ideologically outside of a particular organization or physical meeting place?
Brown: The celebration of Black girlhood as practiced in SOLHOT is made of up a few different rituals (welcoming and closing for example) and logics of organizing that make it possible to affirm the lives of Black girls that do not depend on particular organizational resources or a physical meeting place. The girls who attend SOLHOT animate the celebration coupled with the training of young adult women who contribute their time, energy, and resources as homegirls. As I discuss in my book, the homegirls and the practice of homegirling is a critical distinguishing factor of SOLHOT that allows for entangled relationships that enable radical social change to become more than just a wish but a collective production.
Q: What is problematic about the way Black girls are portrayed in mainstream media? How does SOLHOT work against this?
Brown: Black girls are marginalized by stereotypes- I do not care to repeat them here but any time someone punishes a Black girl because they do not live up to an ideal is problematic. In SOLHOT, we give considerable time to creating our own images about Black girls. We have created original stories, poems, images, music, and performances that speak to who we say we are, the world as we experience it, and our ideas of the good life. We have numerous critiques about how Black girls are portrayed in mainstream media, educational policy, and by those in decision-making positions but the great thing about SOLHOT is that we create and circulate new narratives about Black girlhood that do more than counter dominant images, but guide our survival.
Q: You focus on a framework you call “The Creative Potential of Black Girlhood.” How does highlighting one’s ability to create undermine negative and oppressive social standards or expectations?
Brown: I focus on the creative because it allows me to discuss the ways Black girls have envisioned and in many cases already created something better than status quo. Thinking through the creative potential of Black Girlhood orients me toward the generative- those affective values, logics, ideas, unsuspecting bodies SOLHOT has made possible and brought together. As a scholar, I am very much interested in a structural analysis that explains why Black girls are often constructed as less valuable then their peers and endure unforgiveable and often quieted violence. Building on Black feminisms, critical theory, and arts-based research I too am interested in articulating the moment beyond the present, and I have found theorizing creativity and creative practices extremely useful for this purpose.
Q: How does SOLHOT interact with feminism? Is it in any way a self-consciously feminist venture?
Brown: This is a really interesting question because SOLHOT would not be possible without Black feminisms; women of color feminisms, and hip hop feminisms. SOLHOT as a practice is certainly a version of a really dope feminist future. But, most people usually ask this question seeking to understand how SOLHOT makes “good feminists” and I have to say we do not traffic feminism in that way. Also the way many people ask this question tend to implicate “girls” at the receiving end of “feminism” and this semimisogynst and certainly patriarchal positioning is refused in SOLHOT. Often the knowledge and actions expressed in SOLHOT by participants of all ages is already feminist, is what feminism looks like on its best day, and is a critique of feminism.