Kynard – From Candy Girls to Cyber Sista-Cypher: Narrating Black Females’ Color-Consciousness and Counterstories in and Out of School

Kynard, Carmen. “From Candy Girls to Cyber Sista-Cipher: Narrating Black Females’ Color-Consciousness and Counterstories in and Out of School.” Harvard Educational Review 80.1 (2010): 30-53. Print.

In her article, “From Candy Girls to Cyber Sista-Cipher: Narrating Black Females Color-Consciousness and Counterstories in and Out of School,” Carmen Kynard, assistant professor of English at St. John’s University, takes the reader on a journey through time, place, and space. Kynard’s stated goal is to use multiple narratives that explore how digital technologies offer hush harbors for Black female college students’ social and literacy practices in what she describes as “digitized Candy Girls” (33). The phrase Candy Girls, originally adopted from the popular 80s New Edition song, described Kynard’s clique of African American girls that she attended school with and navigated various issues of Black girlhood with.

Kynard described her approach as an “unhushing narrative methodology” (48), rather than an ethnographic one, in her research because she was an active agent in the cipher’s (group’s) sense making, decision making, and survival making” (48). Kynard used narrative to “unhush” and disclose the ways in which the “hidey spaces,” or hush harbors that she and the Black female students in the cipher formed. These spaces contradicted and challenged traditional notions of literacy where the purpose of literacy is understood solely as a means to achieve money and power.

Kynard argued that her use of groups or ciphers also worked against “isolationism of Black women, and unhushing methodology works against the isolating of researcher and participant” (48). The unhushing narrative methodology “(re)values black radical female subjectivity” (48).

These methods serve a rhetorical purpose because by strategically making the private public, Kynard sought to move a deeper understanding of their hush harbor as a site for “new political lenses into, and therefore struggles against, schooling’s processes of ethnic cleansing” (48). This is no doubt necessary in light of the fact that the rest of the institution failed to “recognized” the cipher members or their activity. Kynard defined the urban, youth term “recognize” as being about “publicly acknowledging what is going on and who the central perpetrators are” (48).

“It is worth saying again: no one in the department where I met the sistas in the cyber cipher noticed their displacement or talent; nobody recognized. It didn’t have to be that way, and it can’t be that way if we intend to really dismantle the race, gender, and class hierarchies of educational institutions.” (48)

Through her unhushing narrative, Kynard shows the various ways that Black women in postsecondary educational settings assess their contexts and their positioning within them and seek to employ and/ or develop community literacy skills in order to survive and potentially thrive in in-school contexts.

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Power Carter – “She Would’ve Still Made That Face Expression”: The Use of Multiple Literacies by Two African American Young Women

Power Carter, Stephanie. “”She Would’ve Still made that Face Expression”: The use of Multiple Literacies by Two African American Women.” Theory into Practice 45.4 (2006): 352-8. Print.

In this article Stephanie Power Carter advocates for a multiple literacies approach in education. She argues that teachers who use a more traditional (autonomous) literacy approach are more likely to view underrepresented students as “powerless, failing, struggling, and/ or having low literacy abilities,” whereas teachers using multiple literacy approach were more likely to interrogate power relations, understand students of color’s use of multiple socio-cultural frame and create spaces of agency within the classroom. While Carter Power does not present any evidence to prove that the use of a multiple literacies approach could achieve these outcomes, she does present enough evidence to show the detrimental outcomes for Black girls in her study when an autonomous literacy approach was used.

Power Carter uses two examples of classroom interactions between two African American students in a High School British literature class. Through Power Carter’s examples we can see that Pam and Natonya use nonverbal communication such as “eye squinting” and eye contact in their British literature classroom to combat its hostile and oppressive environment, and to support one another. Power Carter argues that because the teacher is focused on autonomous literacy, reading and writing in particular ways that typically favor Eurocentric, male, upper-class ways of knowing, she is unaware of the multiple literacies that the girls use, misunderstands them as “passive”, uninterested in learning and succeeding, and at times disruptive. These Black girls are stripped of their power inthis scenario:

“A traditional view of literacy also fails to take into consideration that Pam and Natonya are not powerless, sitting and waiting passively. They are acting, interacting, and reacting to their environment in ways that protect them and affirm their cultural ways of knowing and meaning making.” (356)

Power Carter points out that these epistemological differences have serious consequences for underrepresented students, such as Pam and Natonya. The negative perceptions of Black girls’ literacies, such as speaking with increased volume and passion, results in othering and can foster inequitable treatment and low expectations for Black girls (353). These nondemocratic and colonial pedagogical practices leave students like Pam and Natonya more vulnerable than other students and more susceptible to failure:

“When educators do not take into consideration the multiple literacies that ultimately influence how students make meaning of the world around them and are part of their everyday lives and experiences, we run the risk of dismissing their academic potential and relegating them to a dismal future that labels them as struglling, low performing, and unmotivated… it is important that educators value alternative interpretations within the classroom context and include multiple perspectives and multiple voices in curriculum planning.” (357)

Power Carter’s study elucidates the ways in which the use of multiple literacies of students and a multiple literacies approach on the part of teachers is rhetorical.

Morgan – “No Woman No Cry: Claiming African American Women’s Place

Morgan, Marcyliena. “No Woman No Cry: Claiming African American Women’s Place.” Reinventing Identities: The Gendered Self in Discourse. Eds. Mary Bucholtz, A. C. Lang, and Laurel A. Sutton. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. 27-45. Print.

In this chapter Marcyliena Morgan analyzes thress different cites of African American female discourse use: 1) children’s play, 2) adolescent girls’ verbal activities, and 3) adult interaction. She contests the notion that Black vernacular is male constructed and dominated, and that is only in reaction to racial oppression.

Through a cross-generational analysis of Black female discourse practices Morgan concludes that her illustrations of how African American girls, young women, and women grow and function as core social actors shows that they are a part of the vernacular culture, not at the periphery. She also theorizes that their identity is tied to the construction of what she calls a cool social face (41).

Cool Social Face

Social face is an impression formed of a person based on her or his self-presentation (Goffman 1967). The African American cultural concept that both critiques and symbolizes social face is the notion of being cool – “current and trendsetting, calm, detached, yet in control (cf. Major 1994; Smitherman 1994) (31). Morgan defines a “cool face” as “the ability to enact subtle symbolic cultural practices with eloquence, skill, wit, patience, and precise timing” (31).

Morgan asserts that Black women and girls protect and maintain this face though language games such as he-said-she-said games, instigating, and conversational signifying (41). Morgan urges scholars and analysts to reanalyze the research that has defined sociolinguistics and conduct new research that includes women as social actors.

Foster – “Are You With Me?”: Power and Solidarity in the Discourse of African American Women

Foster, Michéle. “”Are You with Me?”: Power and Solidarity in the Discourse of African American Women.” Gender Articulated: Language and the Socially Constructed Self. Eds. Kira Hall and Mary Bucholtz. New York: Routeledge, 1995. 329-350. Print.

In this chapter Michéle Foster attempts to expand the conversation on African American English and discourse beyond the study of Black, male discourse patterns to include those of middle-class African American women. She contests the notion that middle-class African American speech patterns align more closely with Standard English than those of working-class African Americans (Labov 1969).

Her data comes from observations of and interviews with African American female teachers. By using the framework of performance theory and discourse analysis, Foster concludes that the African American women in her study intentionally and systematically used features of African American discourse style, such as codeswitching in order to express their identity. Such expressions are also influenced by the social relationships between the participants – mainly familiarity.

… this chapter makes clear not only that African American women of the middle class and in the teaching profession retain their ability to communicate in the African American vernacular but that through their use of African American discourse they index a social identity and communicate a particular stance or point of view that cannot be expressed in Standard English. African American English enables these women to communicate cognitive, affective content not available in the standard form of the language, to create and maintain social relationships and express solidarity with listeners (347).

Brown – Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward A Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy

Brown, Ruth Nicole. Black Girlhood Celebration :Toward a Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy. 5 Vol. New York: Peter Lang, 2009. Print.

In Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip-hop Feminist Pedagogy, Ruth Nicole Brown attempts to chart out a pedagogy capable of recognizing the nuances and challenges of race, gender, sexuality, class, and hip-hop culture and how they intersect in the lives of “Black girls.” For Brown, “Black girls” is not an essential category describing African American only, but is also inclusive of Jamaican immigrants, Native Americans, and whites who identify as allies. Brown uses her project Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT) that works with teenage girls that identify as Black in a Mid-western town as a case study to illustrate how this pedagogy manifests as a Black girlhood celebration. Including her own autoethnographic reflections, field notes, news clippings and participant reflections and samples of work while in the program, Brown paints a picture of how such a pedagogy could be enacted and adapted in other settings.

Brown has a joint appointment in Gender and Women’s Studies an Educational Policy. In this book, Brown’s voice is polyvocal; while this book is addressed primarily to other academics in her fields, it also reads as though it is a call to fellow Hip-hop feminists, Black girls and women to do the work of saving our lives. As a reader from a similar Hip-hop socialization and generation I laughed out loud and could relate when Brown described her experience dropping down low doing the “Cha-Cha Slide” and then having to take her time bringing it back up!

Brown’s work is informed by her previous experience as a researcher and “girl saver” in a “girls’ empowerment program” that operated on a colonial banking model that reinforced White middle-class patriarchal values of girlhood. Brown’s work challenges both “girl saving” and “girl empowerment” rhetoric which both exclude the culture and material realities of young Black girls, and operate on the ageist assumptions that girls in general are deficient and need fixing by adults. Instead of trying to “squeeze” Black girlhood into these limited models, Brown’s Black Girlhood Celebration and Hip-hop feminist pedagogy work to make Black Girls and their realities, needs, desires, and ways of being central in their own right.

Brown demonstrates how SOLHOT honors Black girlhood, it’s language, cultural productions (dance, poetry, music), and needs (to be accepted, have a place to express themselves and work out questions and complex feelings). Black girlhood is defined as:

the representations, memories, and lived experiences of being and becoming in a body marked as youthful, Black, and female. Black girlhood is not dependent, then, on age, physical maturity, or any essential category of identity (1).

SOLHOT, an “afterschool” program that meets twice a week for two hours each session over the course of one-and-a-half-years in the case study, also experiences challenges. Brown shares these challenges and how she works together with the SOLHOT girls (student participants) and homegirls (the “mentors”) in order to navigate perceived challenges and turn them into learning opportunities.

A part of crafting this “new” pedagogy, although Brown admits that similar work is being done by other Hip-hop feminist and community workers, is crafting a language for it. Since the Black girlhood experience is so unique and marginalized in Girls’ Studies, Hip-hop, and education/ youth programming, Brown carefully chooses her words and explains how they differ from their typical contexts. For example, she uses “homegirls” to describe “mentors” because mentors typically operate on the banking method of depositing information or values into mentees which Brown rejects.

Brown’s approach to pedagogy is similar to bell hooks’ ( ) approach in Teaching to Transgress in that Brown embraces the notions of passion and joy in the classroom, the necessity of self-actualization of the teacher/ leader/ homegirl, and the incorporation and recognition of the body and spirit in addition to the mind in the learning experience.

Brown’s pedagogy focuses on process and community building above an actual product or production as a result:

Saving Our Lives may appear on the surface as a nod toward that project of youth management, but it is not… when SOLHOT works, I do quite believe that lives are saved by collectively acting on our own behalf. How the “saving” happens is not in the logistics and activities, but in our coming together. In SOLHOT we acknowledge our common problems to each other. We feel it together. We walk through it together. While we walk, we talk about what’s real outside of this problem (64).

In true Hip-hop feminist form, Brown acknowledges the contradictions and gray areas involved with Black girls and women working together in such a dynamic and un-stable way. Like Friere, Brown does states and restates that she does not intend for Black Girlhood Celebration to be prescriptive and the model for Hip-hop feminist pedagogy, but an example and a possibility.

On a personal note, this book was an incredible read for me. It validated my frustrations as a Black woman working for a nonprofit organization as a program director for “at risk” youth and striving to provide nurturing programs for primarily Black and Brown boys and girls. I was constantly told that I did not need to spend as much time in the classrooms and programs with my students, but I DID. They needed me and I needed them. I needed to hear from them what it was that they needed. I needed to see when their eyes glazed over in boredom. I needed to check (and correct) “mentors” that were condescending to the youth. Ruth Brown also helped me to better understand my successes. I smile thinking of doing the Cha Cha Slide with my girls and them teaching me how to Cupid Shuffle. That was our “batty dance.” This further let’s me know – that we are on to something and change gon come!

Richardson – ‘She was workin like foreal’: critical literacy and discourse practices of African American females in the age of hip hop

In a semi-structured group interview with three middle-class African-American young women (one East Coast, 2 Midwestern), Elaine Richardson uses critical discourse analysis to explore ways that the young women negotiate stereotypical and hegemonic representations of black men and women. Richardson presents an analysis of her conversation with the young women about the video for Midwestern rapper Nelly and the St. Lunatics’ song “Tip Drill.” The controversial song and video portrays the commodified images of hypersexualized women of color and hypermasculine black men: ” The song could be considered a strip club anthem replete with signs of carnality and status, attractive young black women wielding their power signs – their beautiful shapely bodies…; virile men flashing their black men’s power signs – cash money…” (791)

Richardson’s primary question is: “How do young African American females negotiate stereotypical representations of African American culture, gender, labor, and sexual values in rap music videos?” (791) Through her conversation and critical discourse analysis, Richardson shows the “special knowledge” that the young women have about themselves, other black women and men, and their position in the racist, global, capitalistic system of the United States.

Richardson finds that the young women use Black and Hip-hop discourses, “smart talk” (Van Dijk 1997), and African American female literacies to understand and articulate their positions which are at times complicated and conflicted. One notable example of this is when one of the participants “represents” for the men in the video and their lived experience. “Representin'” as a part of Hip-hop discourse is a concept and practice that is “a part of the larger black discourse practice that emerged in the slavery experience and is akin to fictive kinship, wherein enslaved African devised a way of surviving, achieving prestige and creating a black human identity apart from dehumanized slave,” (797) Participants “BE” gives rapper Nelly the benefit of the doubt arguing that he would not talk to a woman of “class” the way he speaks to “Tip Drills,” women who are strippers, or opportunistic women that do not have class. This notion that implies that there is a category of black women unworthy of respect.

Richardson concludes that young people, like those in her study, are aware of the dominating forces that perpetuate stereotypes about African Americans, but they do not possess all of the necessary critical tools to “escape internal victim blaming for their predicament.” (806) She advocates for critical pedagogies that go beyond challenging to changing systems that allow for inequality, sexism, and racism. Of course, we can add a host of other “isms” based on social divisions.

Majors – “‘I wasn’t Scared of Them, They Were Scared of Me’: Constructions of Self/ Other in a Midwestern Hair Salon

Majors, Yolanda J. “‘I Wasn’t Scared of Them, They Were Scared of Me’: Constructions of Self/ Other in a Midwestern Hair Salon.” Anthropology and Education Quarterly. 35.2 (2004): 167-188.Print.

In this article Yolanda Majors applies the theoretical frameworks of critical discourse analysis, critical race theory, and Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) to ethnographic data from an African American hair salon in the mid-West. In her analyses, Majors shows the ways in which African American women use African American women’s literacies and Black discourse practices to individually and collectively negotiate and create meaning, construct and read social texts, construct their own counter-texts that challenge dominant narratives and beliefs, and create dialogic spaces for themselves to engage in these practices.

She uses data from the salon that features a narration from Darlene who assumes several roles – “counselor,” “teacher,” “master stylist,” and “storyteller.” Majors focuses on the ways that Darlene’s narration of a social text helps her to forge her own identity in the midst of a cross-cultural interaction. Darlene’s talk reflect’s her racialized, gendered, and social class position.

The dialogic interaction created between Darlene, her employees, and her clients as she tells her storyis in line with Mikhail Bakhtin’s (1981) view of dialogicality where readers are considered authors and reading is a dialogue between a previously created text and a reactive text created by the reader (182). On this point, Majors says,

Such a perspective transforms the traditional concept of reading into a contingent dialogic process, in which the reader becomes a border-crosser in doing her/ his imaginary scholarship in the process of reading. (182)

Majors asserts that her analyses provides a insight as to how educators can make room for the literacies and discourse practices that African American women use in community-based settings in “academic” settings as well:

The identities people construct through their adoption of these language varieties are viewed as impediments to their academic learning – as personal skins to be shed in acquiring passports to success. This illustration of Shoptalk disrupts such assumptions and offers a more grounded view of the role of language variation in achieving literate skills (Lee and Majors 2003).