Corrine Field and LaKisha Simmons on “Black Girlhood and Kinship”

Corrine T. Field is an associate professor in the Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality at the University of Virginia and the Mellon-Schlesinger Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. LaKisha Michelle Simmons is an assistant professor of history and women’s studies at University of Michigan. In honor of Women’s History Month, they recently spoke to us about their special issue of Women, Gender, and Families of Color, “Black Girlhood and Kinship.”

What does it mean to see the world from black girls’ standpoint?

In our special issue “Black Girlhood and Kinship” in the journal Women, Gender, and Families of Color, we focus on the subject of kinship and black girls in a diasporic framework.  By drawing attention to how coming of age is a relational process, contributors reveal how girls seek both interdependence and independence in relation with others. The girls presented in these articles navigate conflicting loyalties and multiple obligations.  They demand protection and assert their autonomy. They seek love and rebel against authority. Through their words and actions, we can come to understand how girls create their own kin networks for their own purposes even as they answer to adult demands.

We know that adults often underestimate black girls, and that black girls face intertwined forces of sexism and racism in their daily lives.  But, we wanted to ask: What modes of analysis help scholars better understand black girls’ sense of self and the ways in which they navigate the world around them? 

To center black girls’ worldview, one must write and research from a decolonial and black feminist perspective. Traditionally, scholarship on black youth has started with the assumption that black youth are “endangered,” or their families are “disorganized,” or black teen girls turn into unwed mothers.  But in this special issue, the articles shift the debate. Instead, they focus on how black girls (re)made (and continue to remake) families when they are left alone, how black girls focus on being daughters as a way to assert a full personhood, how black girls search for love and protection, and how they find ways to find privacy in a world that might surveil them.  Following Saidiya Hartman’s call in her recent study of young black women’s intimate lives in turn-of-the-century American cities, we must recognize the “revolutionary ideals that animated ordinary lives” and contend with the many ways in which black girls “were radical thinkers who tirelessly imagined other ways to live and never failed to consider how the world might be otherwise” (Hartman 2019, xv).  Contributors to this special issue find such “beautiful experiments” playing out in a wide variety of historical contexts, each with their own particular constraints and possibilities.  Together, the articles off an opportunity to consider the kinship strategies of black girls across time and space, with essays focused on liberated girls in post-emancipation Senegal, orphans at the Howard School in Brooklyn in the 1910s, mixed-race girls in post-War Germany, contemporary black girls as producers of digital culture, and autoethnography and memoir as sites for theorizing girlhood and kinship. By presenting this new research, we hope to prompt further inquiry as to what families look like from the perspective of black girls.

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