As a collective of Black women and girls image-makers, our interests are in how we can make use of photography, writing and other artistic tools, as a mechanism for cultivating our power and voice in ways that can disrupt cultural narratives and institutions that normalize and advance our unjust treatment. Towards this end, we explored a set of questions with our girls this spring: What does power look like in our lives? What does it mean for Black girls to hold power? How can Black girls disrupt power dynamics that negatively impact them?
We designed a series of workshops for girls meant to cultivate resiliency and aid in the growth of their voice and power to be able to speak to various issues that affect us. School pushout is one of the topics we explored this spring with the group of girls ages 8-15 who have been learning photography and writing with us over the year. Scholars like Kimberly Crenshaw, Monique W. Morris, Connie Wun and LeConté Dill have pointed to the myriad of ways that Black girls are challenged to navigate educational spaces with stereotypes, bias, and criminalization and institutionalized injustice. Too often interpreted as hostile, uncaring, arrogant and disruptive, the racialized and gendered dimensions of school pushout result in Black girls disproportionately experiencing punitive discipline measures like suspension and expulsion.
During our workshop, we dynamically engaged our voices and used a Theater of the Oppressed (a methodology for using theater for social change) exercise to illustrate and explore power as we experience it, as it can be, and as we will it to be. After defining school pushout, we listened to the stories of young activists with Girls for Gender Equity in NYC and discussed their experiences with school pushout. These stories engendered immediate and emotional responses from the girls. There was clear recognition and firm belief that their stories mattered. Our girls immediately extended sisterhood to these brave storytellers in the film and expressed a desire to stand up for them.
We asked them what they would say to the school administrators or to these girls if a microphone were in their hands. Here are some of their responses:
“I’m triggered about Black girls getting suspended for no reason or stupid reasons.”
“You don’t have to put down anyone to keep things calm and controlled. You should be putting the people up, not down. It’s unfair, some of the things that happen with school people and administration. But we need to continue sticking up for ourselves, each other and our rights and beliefs. Because we do matter, our voice matters, our rights matter. We all matter.”
“We need to change what happens in our schools and the way people look at it. Black people get suspended from the most annoying and stupidest thing. Sometimes Black girls at my school get in trouble for not doing their work, sleeping in class, etc and it’s so stupid.”
“The teachers at school are using their higher status as an advantage. Teachers need to start thinking more carefully about the consequences they give students.”
“We are our own beautiful bodies and we don’t deserve to be treated this way.”
We affirm the messages that the girls issue and encourage them as they continue to develop their own voices and power in expressions of care and justice for other black girls.