Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

"We Need More 'US' in Schools!!": Centering Black Adolescent Girls' Literacy and Language Practices in Online School Spaces

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

"We Need More 'US' in Schools!!": Centering Black Adolescent Girls' Literacy and Language Practices in Online School Spaces

Article excerpt


Black adolescent girls' personhood, lived experiences, literacy, and language practices have constantly been scrutinized across various spheres of society. Historically positioned at the margins being both Black and female, Black girls face academic barriers that are connected to their gendered, racialized, and classed identities (Collins, 2000; Crenshaw, 2015; Evans-Winters, 2011; National Women's Law Center, 2014). The intersection of race and gender results in Black girls' experiences often generalized with the experiences of Black males and White, Western, middle class girls, which continues to leave Black girls voiceless and their experiences invisible (Collins, 2000; Evans-Winter, 2011; Fordham, 1993; Lorde, 1984; Peoples, 2008). Such forms of marginalization of Black girlhood have been damaging and are instrumental in the ways Black adolescent girls see themselves and construct their own identities and representations of self (Brooks, 2006; Richardson, 2013). The invisibility of Black girls' experiences have also transcended into social institutions, specifically school spaces that have perpetuated inequities and have greatly impacted the literacy and language practices that are valued (Richardson, 2013).

Traditional Conceptions of Literacy and the Marginalization of Black Girls

Despite the push for state, local, and federal educational mandates that promote multicultural literature, 21st century literacy skills and inclusive learning environments in school spaces, traditional models of education continue to be prevalent. "Schools are viewed as the dominant discourse of learning, which continues to be rooted in a tradition that privileges print, canonical text, and individualized instruction" (King & O'Brien, 2002, p. 48). The traditional model of education promotes a narrow conception of literacy and often unfairly associates deficit-oriented labels such as "at risk," "unmotivated," "underperforming," "educationally disadvantaged," "struggling," "educationally handicapped" to describe Black girls whose literacy and language practices may be different than the dominant discourse (King & O'Brien, 2002, p. 45). Such an approach highlights the narrow conception of literacy and a literacy hierarchy, in which schoolsanctioned texts are deemed appropriate and serve as the benchmark by which other forms of literature are classified (Alvermann, 2001; Hughes-Hassell & Rodge, 2007; Mahiri & Sablo, 1996) constructing what counts as reading and who counts as readers.

Marginalized readers are

those who are not engaged in the reading and writing done in school; who have language or cultural practices different from those valued in school; or who are outsiders to the dominant group because of their race, class, gender, and/or sexual orientation. (Moje, 2000, p. 405).

This monolithic approach to texts, lacking alignment between Black girls' family and cultural background and school-sanctioned literacy practices, often results in Black adolescent girls viewing school spaces as sites of struggle, resistance, and exclusion (DeBlase, 2003; Gonzales, Moll, & Amanti, 2005; Moje, 2000). The push for canonical texts and the lack of culturally conscious texts has resulted in Black adolescent girls silencing their own voices; in order to accommodate dominant perspectives (DeBlase, 2003). This has also resulted in a tremendous gap between Black girls' in-school and out-of-school literacies (Gainer & Lapp, 2010).

Black adolescents girls who are often disengaged with more traditional forms of texts are often engaged in more culturally conscious forms of texts, such as street literature (Gibson, 2010; Greene, 2012). Black girls tend to be drawn to the textual features, recurring themes, and cultural practices embedded in street literature texts (Brooks, 2006; Harris, 1997; Morris, 2012), including storylines situated in urban communities in major cities (Morris, 2012), linguistic styles rooted in African American Vernacular English, female protagonist faced with life experiences often considered taboo, such as sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, and physical abuse (Morris, HughesHassell, & Agosto, 2006), the popular culture elements, specifically Hip-hop aesthetics (Jocson, 2005; Mahiri, 2005; Morrell, 2004, 2008), and the social issues present in urban communities (Jocson, 2005). …

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