Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Three Paths, One Struggle: Black Women and Girls Battling Invisibility in U.S. Classrooms

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Three Paths, One Struggle: Black Women and Girls Battling Invisibility in U.S. Classrooms

Article excerpt

I left class completely exhausted, but in a good way. This course, like others in our program, has required that I confront what may threaten my ability of becoming a more socially conscious educator. I am fatigued, from the reflective reflexivity that comes with using your own lived experiences as the basis for learning.

(Haynes, personal narrative excerpt, 2011).

The above excerpt captures our experience as Black women in the first-year of a higher education PhD program. As the excerpt suggests, we had encountered a classroom unlike any experienced before. For the first time, we were taught to identify and deconstruct educational norms that reinforce racism, sexism, and other acceptable forms of oppression (Mayo, 1999). Our instructors prepared courses that challenged us to critique the influence of power and privilege, and reflect on our capacity as educators committed to fostering identity affirming learning environments within and beyond the classroom (Danowitz & Tuitt, 2011).

Our learning process required mental, physical, and spiritual endurance, inspiring us to seek refuge in one another as Black women in a doctoral cohort, and at times, the only person(s) of color in predominantly White classrooms. We could neither deny the inevitability of our individual paths converging during our doctoral journeys, nor the discomforts we collectively experienced in the classroom. Despite our extensive educational training prior to doctoral work, we were underprepared to engage in learning that brought us from the margins to the center (hooks, 1984) as thought leaders (Harris-Perry, 2011). Moreover, we had no familiarity with classroom interactions designed to examine the significance of race, gender, and intersectionality in higher education. Within this frame, our study explores the utility of Franklin's (1999) Invisibility Syndrome Paradigm for understanding our educational experiences as Black women in the U.S. and our continued pursuit for liberation (hooks, 1994).


In recounting our classroom experiences with one another, we discovered that we each battled past feelings of invisibility. Franklin (1999) explained, "Invisibility is an inner struggle with feeling that one's talents, abilities, personality, and worth are not valued or even recognized" (Franklin, 1999, p. 761). Furthermore, invisibility is the outcome of the racialized sexism that Black women experience daily (Collins, 1986, 2013). In an American society that promotes self-hatred among Black women, the cloak of invisibility we experience forces us to adjust, cope, and adapt to a presumed inferior status instead of exercising liberation in the classroom and beyond (hooks, 1981).

We used Franklin's (1999) Invisibility Syndrome Paradigm to deconstruct our prior P-16 classroom experience. Our goal was to understand how those experiences contributed to our persistence as Black women doctoral students. Our findings reveal that we were exposed to and adopted deficit thinking about ourselves as learners and scholars. Our deficit thinking was symptomatic of prolonged exposure to a master narrative rooted in racist and sexist ideology and reified through a series of academic transactions we experienced in U.S. classrooms as Black girls. Master narratives are ideological scripts that establish norms, distribute power, and assign status, determining who or what holds value (Acuff, Hirak, & Nangah, 2012).

When master narratives, designed to promote racist-sexist conditioning (hooks, 1981) are enacted in the classroom, academic transactions leave Black women and girls feeling inadequate and expendable, or otherwise invisible. To illustrate, academic transaction is the term used to describe the price that Black women and girls pay for doing business in the educational marketplace. Academic transaction emphasizes not only what is taught, but also what is learned by students (Haynes, 2016), when master narratives are enacted in the classroom. …

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