Solange “asserting her Blackness” at the Guggenheim this week got me in my fe-fes and thinking about the density of my last two weeks. First and foremost, I like the bad arseness of asserting vs. inserting Blackness—inserting is more passive. So yeah, this post be a flow, a stream of consciousness that’s unedited, tangential, but comes full circle…stick with it.
Last week I went to a conference that was a little odd and disjointed, but I could tell that there was someone(s) in the mix of its planning that was intentional and had a clue.
The sessions I got the most from were the ones that were experiential and asserted Blackness in this very white space that was being camouflaged as inclusive and “woke” and social justice and praxis. It was a little disheartening because the turnout was small, so it was a missed opportunity to really delve into exploring racial justice through art-making and communally.
Fast forward to this week. I was summoned by my school’s social worker to do some sessions for a Youth Empowerment Day at the other high school she’s assigned to. *giggles, summoned. i was liking that word* I couldn’t tell her no since she graciously chaperoned most of my fieldtrips this school year. Moreover, I wanted to do it. Well, that is prior to the evening before the event. That evening, I was wo’out and didn’t feel like prepping for it.
My topic was “resilience,” but the social worker trusted me to do whatever as it relates to mental health. Thankfully I would be engaging girls so I didn’t have to think too far outta tha box, since that’s the population I support daily.
I came up with an interactive and engaging session with the goal of moving beyond Grit (soft skills, compassion and growth mindset) to address Black girls and resilience in the context of intersectionality…
Here’s an article about grit, and though it centers Black boys, it’s real talk and a similar correlation can be made for Black girls.
I digress. One day, I was in a CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) training and the facilitator, Gawd bless her little white heart, was reviewing the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviors— the CBT triangle. She used an example of a student “assuming” a teacher didn’t like them. She broke down how that “maladaptive” thought can lead to a “maladaptive” feeling and behavior. I waited til the end of that segment to lean in.
The common assumption that students, just randomly, think teachers don’t like them, blows me. Don’t get it twisted, I believe in the CBT triangle especially with a heaping of mindfulness, as I also practice other theories and approaches, but everything has to be in context and exist through a lens of wholeness. Our mental health is not separate from our experiences as Black people in this world.
Moreover, students aren’t without sensors or intuition, they pick up on things, and young people can read a room like no other. Stop telling youth they don’t feel what they feel, or that they aren’t picking up on shade, or dislike, just because the person throwing the shade, is an adult. This ish is adultist. Also, race, class…etc play a role in this too. The attempted erasure of experiences of oppression from the therapeutic process makes my ovaries itch and my head hurt. I once had a supervisor tell me: just apply the theories, race doesn’t matter—the DSM is the DSM. Needless to say that exchange resulted in a very indepth conversation.
Back to the topic at hand…I despise what comes with the assumption that Black people, Black girls are inherently resilient. Even if we are, it doesn’t mean that we are immune to pain, trauma and dysfunction. It doesn’t mean that we should not support our youth emotionally and mentally, and do so in a non-pathologizing manner. It doesn’t mean that our youth are left to their own devices to figure ish out, be “normal” on their own, and just excel academically. And most importantly, it does not mean that structural violence etc doesn’t exist, cos it does. Yes, Black girls are all things magical and are the expert of our own experiences, but goshdarnit we are humon and in our humonness, we feel and experience things deeply.
As for my session, I named it: “Who are you? I am…” I facilitated four sessions between 9am and 1pm. 2 of the 4 had white teachers who stayed in the room. Now mind you, the students are Black. It ain’t like I’m not used to white teachers in the classroom. Okay, “used to it” is relative, but I’m used to seeing it. And, used to it doesn’t mean I’m always comfortable with it, especially when there’s a lack of cultural awareness and sensitivity. And, there’s this thing called Teach for America that dumps young white teachers in our schools and they only stay a hot second.
Anyhoo, what I am not used to is having a white gaze when I am engaging Black girls. My work as a counselor, therapist…youth-worker is intimate and interpersonal, I don’t do spectators well. Us tending to us, is not to be gawked at, no need for an audience. Me, plus-sized womon with headwrap being Black with Black girls and white teachers sitting there ackin’ like they aren’t there trying to be invisible but can’t hide and super engaged and half-way offended cos I am unapologeticially Womon/Black and speaking life over these Black girls and encouraging them to love their Girl/Black-selves and addressing systemic –isms while they’re making mental note on how they can better connect to “their” students and wanna be impressed with how I, a “stranger,” done came up in here and got the girls to open us and share their narratives in merely 50 mins and and and and. (Yes, it felt like a long run on sentence…)
Long story short, their presence didn’t stop me from asserting Black girl magic on whiteness by centering the humanity of Black girls in that space. It wasn’t hard, but energetically I had to ground myself in a completely different way because the white gaze is such a loaded thing. It’s not as simple as, “don’t give it power.”
I don’t give it power, but I acknowledge its presence, because ignoring it doesn’t mean it’s not present, and its presence doesn’t knock me off my square. Its presence, however, might result in me engaging the girls more, and contextualizing things in a way that I wouldn’t if they weren’t present, which this “extra” always serves to support the girls. I’m also aware that I’m modeling for Black girls on how to be themselves and authentic even in the presence of whiteness.
The most important thing was that I created a space that was inviting for the girls. The space served as a container for Black girls to exist in their vulnerability as a strength, not as a weakness, and to share their narratives.
The day was long. Those four sessions included me having to setup and breakdown after each session. I had to make it to the next room within minutes to do the same thing all over again cos the presenters moved, not the students.
I was scrambling because when I present I “gots stuff.” No doubt we making and doing something, when I present. I had music, portable speakers, powerpoint, handouts, art materials etc going from room to room. Whew!
Reading about Solange asserting Blackness at the Guggenheim got me to thinking, and feeling, about what’s been happening in my own world of asserting blackness.