Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Searching for Full Vision: Writing Representations of African American Adolescent Girls

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Searching for Full Vision: Writing Representations of African American Adolescent Girls

Article excerpt

The making of a literary history in which black women are fully represented is a search for full vision to create a circle where now we have but a segment (Washington, 1987, p. xxvii).

In this line from her introduction to collected narratives by African American women from 1860 to 1960, Mary Helen Washington references African American women writers and how they were silenced and underrepresented within literary traditions. Although they have contributed substantially to the intellectual com- munity, Washington argues that their writings have been portrayed in literary traditions as "singular and anomalous." Washington is also alluding to the argument made by Anna Julia Cooper (1988) in her book A Voice from the South, in which she compares a world in which women were made to be "subordinate" to a metaphoric body with one eye covered with a bandage. When the bandage is removed, Cooper writes, "the whole body is filled with light. It sees a circle where before it saw a segment. The darkened eye restored, every member rejoices with it" (p. 122). Washington (1988) writes, "The myopic sight of the darkened eye can only be restored when the full range of the black women's voice, with its own special timbres and shadings, remains mute no longer" (p. xiv). The silencing or muting of African American women's lives provides the grounds for Washington's call for a reconstruction of a literary tradition. She suggests that a full vision is restored when their voices, lives, and stories are represented and not blurred or bound by false views.

Currently, there exists a strong need to seek a similar "full vision" of African American adolescent girls. While there is a rich literary history of African American women writing about their lives among dominant discourses that have attempted to silence or falsely represent their identities, there is a limited amount of research into how and if Black adolescent girls write in similar ways as they, too, are faced with public misrepresentations of self. Representation, as I define it in this study, is the description, depiction, portrayal, or characterization of the self or someone else in a particular way and is an enactment of identity. Without a clear view of how Black adolescent girls define who they are, educators are left to piece together "broken and sporadic" segments of their identities (Washington, 1987) and may subsequently engage them in writing exercises that do not advance their negotiation of selfhood. The bounded projections of African American girls are further illustrated within historical images and the contemporary manifestations of these, the persistent focus on pathologies in social science research, and the narrowed attention given to beauty, colorism, and sexual characterizations in literacy research. Taken together, these literatures often focus on the ways others have portrayed Black girlhood and how these portrayals are perceived as negative, false, or incomplete and are discordant with girls' literary history. Ideally, English language arts educators would be able to not only distinguish between others' imposed identities and the self-definitions of Black girls, but also reconnect their students with their literary histories by creating spaces for them to challenge false views. If educators can understand girls' identities and ways to engage them in writing, this knowledge can help support them in crafting writing experiences in classrooms that not only build their skills but also help youth to make sense of who they are. This study presents wider views of Black girlhood from girls' individual voices and helps educators reconceptualize the roles and purposes of writing accentuated in the histories, identities, and literacies of youth. Without wider views, other voices continue to become the dominant or the outwardly solitary narrative.

Purpose and Significance of Study

To get closer to a "full vision" in understanding how African American adolescent girls represent themselves, research is needed that foregrounds their voices and places them at the center. …

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