I’m Not Loud, I’m Outspoken

Narratives of Four Jamaican Girls’ Identity and Academic Success

in Girlhood Studies
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  • 1 York University rowena.linton@gmail.com
  • 2 University of Ottawa lrmclean@uottawa.ca

ABSTRACT

Black females achieve high standards of success yet their lived experiences are frequently absent from educational literature in Canada. This article documents the navigational strategies adopted by four Jamaican-Canadian girls to achieve academic success and discusses how they conceptualized their identity and the role(s) their identity played in their schooling experiences. In contrast to the deficiencies that are often highlighted in studies on the schooling experiences of black students, we draw on critical theories to shed light on the positive aspects of these black females’ schooling experiences. Such an approach disrupts negative views of black students as lagging behind in education and provides examples for other students on how to excel in the face of educational barriers. These narratives provide education policy makers with current perspectives on how students struggle to overcome obstacles to achieve academic success in a system that promises to be accessible to all students.

Historically, black women have occupied curious spaces in Canadian society—the help, live-in caregiver, Underground Railroad conductor, civil rights activist, educator, carrier of culture, and the backbone of families and communities. Despite having created a cultural, racial, and gendered presence, their stories, achievements, and experiences are limited in, if not absent from, educational literature (Cooper 2002). As Rollock (2007) states, “Black girls become viewed in direct relation to the sets of ongoing bothered beliefs and contentious concerns that exist for Black boys” (201). In North America, black males and their shortcomings are overrepresented in education research and, to a great extent, the seemingly fixed and over simplified image of young black males as academically incompetent not only becomes the most available representation of all black students, but it also undermines other perceptions of black youth, including the actual academic success of black girls (Henry 1998).

Girls have achieved higher grades than boys throughout what is essentially mandatory schooling for nearly a century (Voyer and Voyer 2014). Black girls continue to redefine academic boundaries and reject unmerited social norms in (re)claiming their own identity despite being amongst the most socially, economically, and politically disadvantaged and excluded groups within Canadian society (Wilson and Flicker 2015). To further our understanding of black girls’ long history of academic dominance and identity formation we draw, in this article, on a critical feminist framework to analyze the academic success of four black Canadian born Jamaican high-school girls living in Toronto, Canada, in order to probe the various factors including the psychological, social, socio-economic, racial, and gendered obstacles that had an impact on their schooling experiences.

Feminisms

Feminism aims to correct the social, political, and economic wrongs that women continue to experience today. With most societies privileging men as a group over women, feminism continues to evolve in its commitment to empower and bring about gender parity and equality for all women—those of colour, white, working-class, economically privileged, physically challenged, able bodied, lesbian, heterosexual, queer, old, young, and so on. Prior iterations of feminism were criticized for excluding some women. In particular, black women rejected the second wave mainstream feminist movement in the 1960s for failing to accommodate the diversity, experiences, and social locations of minority women. This rejection gave birth to the black feminist movement that emerged to represent the needs of black women who felt that they were racially oppressed in what was known as the white Women’s Movement, and sexually oppressed in the black Liberation Movement (Hull et al. 1982). Black feminism later flourished through the work of prominent African-American women such as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, and others whose main goal was to break the silence on the exclusion of black women. In solidarity, black females developed a voice that could vocalize the perspectives of all black women’s realities and concerns. Black feminism disrupts the inherent racial assumption that feminism is a whites-only ideology and political movement (Collins 2000; hooks 2000).

In the American context, black feminism and womanism are culturally based perspectives that take into consideration the contextual and interactive effects of herstory, culture, race, class, gender, and other forms of oppression in understanding black women. Black feminism operates on the guiding premise that academic knowledge and personal histories must be integrated in theorizing black women’s experiences to promote empowerment (Lindsay-Dennis 2015). The various principles of black feminism and its methodological analysis of the interaction of race, class, and gender theorize the very essence of many black women’s existence. Womanism, used interchangeably with black feminism, refers exclusively to black women who are responsible, in charge, and serious. Being oriented towards social justice, womanism is concerned with engaging in the difficult task of working through the diverse ways in which black women have been affected by interlocking systems of oppression such as sexism, classism, and racism. Womanism seeks to understand these linked systems of oppression rather than merely opposing patriarchal ideologies (Collins 2000; Crenshaw 1989; Phillips and McCaskill 2006). In fact, Collins asserts that womanism supplies a way for black women to address gender oppression without attacking black men. With its aim of representing all black women, womanism provides a structure to investigate and highlight black girls’ perspectives in different cultural contexts.

To analyze the schooling experiences of black girls in Canada, we drew on black Canadian feminism that brings together the many aspects of black Canadian women’s realities—their historical, cultural, gendered, and racialized experiences as black women in Canada. Although black Canadian feminism has not been adequately researched, Wane (2013) argues that there is no neat pile of concepts according to which black women’s lives can be analyzed given the interlocking systems of influences. In the Canadian context, black women have multi-ethnic ancestries—African Black, Caribbean Black, Indian Black and so on—that add a complex layer to understanding and theorizing Canadian feminism. Canadian black feminism highlights the histories, successes, and identities of black women while imploring researchers to examine their differences along with their struggles and the ways in which colonialism continues to structure how power, privilege, and punishment are exercised against black female bodies (Wane 2013; Cooper 2002). Canadian black feminism allows us to investigate the academic success of these girls and share their stories that epitomise how oppositional knowledge is formed at the margins. It celebrates autonomy and validates the experiences of black girls and women by reclaiming the margins and the devalued spaces of black girlhood and womanhood as places of creativity, power, resources, and resistance.

Black Girls’ Schooling Experiences

Black students in Canada continue to suffer racial disadvantages and discrimination that affects their schooling experiences. Among the plethora of explanations for the academic disengagement that permeates black communities is the cultural deficit model which chides black students, families, and communities for their academic failure. The opposing perspective adopted by black communities blames the seemingly fixed eurocentric school curricula, instructional strategies, and teaching styles that are incompatible with black students’ cultural identity and that continue to push black students out of school (Dei et al. 1997; Henry 1998; Codjoe 2005; James 2012). These perspectives reveal the complexity of seeking to understand the problems with schooling for black students. While attempts have been made to eliminate these problems institutionally, some black female students, as we shall see, have taken matters into their own hands so as to defy stereotypes, and have, instead, excelled academically.

Methodology

Our central research question asks: What are the strategies used by successful secondary school black girls to achieve academic success in an urban school learning environment? This study explores the strategies used by four successful high-school black girls to achieve such success. We approach this study from a transformative theoretical viewpoint, one that emphasizes the realities of marginalized groups, is emancipatory, and participatory. Our goal was to give voice to the participants in the belief that reality can be articulated through a collaborative process between the researcher and participant. Together with our participants, we co-created their narratives.

Sampling

Although the sample size in a narrative research design is frequently one or two individuals, we recruited four participants to develop a collective story and, following Creswell (2013) and Clandinin and Connelly (2000), to draw meaningful conclusions from the data. Participants were selected through purposive sampling and were recruited mainly from a local youth group. For the purpose of the study, the description successful black students referred to individuals from urban neighborhoods and/or working class family settings who were enrolled in academic streams in all or most of their Grade 12 courses. Participants were required to be passing with an 80 percent average or higher and to be anticipating university enrollment. Our rationale for including students with aspirations of attending university is linked to the historical assumption that black students are considered more suitable for applied learning and are frequently steered into college program preparation courses by guidance counsellors in high schools (Dei et al. 1997; Codjoe 2005). This approach shaped the boundaries of the research. All four participants attended different urban high schools in Toronto, three of which are identified by the provincial Ministry of Education as urban and priority high schools. Schools designated thus are located in urban centres across Ontario. They face challenges including poverty, criminal and gang activity, and the lack of community resources, recreation centres, and/or libraries. Ethical considerations are relevant in research that involves human participants, as with these girls. As researchers, power and positionality and how these affect some aspects of the research process, including the design and data collection, were of concern. We addressed these challenges by attempting to give voice to the girls.

The Girls

The study is based on the narratives of four first generation Canadian girls whose families immigrated from Jamaica, and who self-identify as black. The Jamaican-Canadian community is one of the largest non-European ethnic groups in Canada with most of these people living in Ontario, mainly in Toronto. Women make up most of the community and are frequently the heads of their single-parent households. Jamaican-born Canadians are less likely than the overall population to have a university education or to complete high school. At the time of the study, three of the four girls were completing their senior year in high school, and had submitted applications to various universities in Canada and the United States. The fourth participant was enrolled in her first year at university. All four participants were from Toronto, home to a large number of immigrants, as mentioned above. Some Toronto neighborhoods have high unemployment rates, low-income households, high crime rates, and a low school-graduation rate. These factors are viewed as putting youth at risk of poor educational outcomes. All four participants have very active social lives and were involved in community and cultural activities including playing basketball, attending religious gatherings, and singing. One participant is an avid pianist. While all four participants lived in different family settings, two lived with both parents, and all four girls credit their mother as being their number one cheerleader regardless of parental status. These four girls, Ananya, Jessica, Shay, and Vanessa,1 are up-to-date on societal and current affairs and they all display some degree of being oriented towards social justice; they all share concerns on issues affecting contemporary society.

Data Collection and Analysis

To build an in-depth case on the academic journeys of these four high-achieving black female students, we drew on a multi-modal methodology consisting of a demographic questionnaire, semi-structured interviews, and a group discussion to collect the data. These were all designed specifically to gather information in response to the research question. We concealed the girls’ biographical information by providing a composite profile and using pseudonyms to ensure their anonymity. We analyzed the data using a problem solution narrative analysis approach (Yussen and Ozcan 1997; Creswell 2013). Yussen and Ozcan’s theoretical perspective on narrative thought focusses on any cognitive action in which the individual contemplates one or more people engaged in some activities in a specific setting for a purpose. This methodology served as a frame of reference for engaging in the process of what Clandinin and Connelly (2000) and Clandinin (2006) describe as restorying.

Restorying, based on social constructivism, maintains that we all have multiple realities. It involves gathering participants’ stories, analyzing them for key elements of story, reforming the stories, and then presenting them as text in a thematic sequence. We analyzed our participants’ personal stories using the problem solution narrative analysis. This analytical approach allowed us to use the raw data in the form of the transcription, and analyze it using the five elements of plot structure—character, setting, problem, actions, and resolution—to rewrite the participants’ stories. We inductively analyzed the stories, using the research question and contant comparison to extrapolate components of the narratives; this approach minimized the potential risk of skewing the data. Further, to add credibility to our research, the participants were given final versions of the restoried narratives to check for coherence. We then highlighted aspects of the narratives that speak directly to our research to arrive at common themes and shared experiences. We incorporated the shared experiences to promote an alternative way of understanding black girls’ identity and academic success stories.

Results

We extracted three major themes from the girls’ narratives of their schooling experience—suffering injustices at school, substituting social capital, and constructing resistive identity—that capture the strategies used by them to excel in school.

The first two themes recollect the girls’ descriptions of their school environment and expose some of the structures and systems in their lives, and their impact on learning. The third theme relates to the identity the girls created as a reaction to their school experiences. Based on their responses, we offer a discussion of how these responses influenced their performance of what we call black womaness.

Suffering Injustices at School

The girls felt that injustices were present in their schools, classrooms, and society, as was evidence of discrimination, especially in the form of teachers’ differential treatment of students and their different expectations of them as black students, that significantly affected their engagement. Shay shared her views on the teachers’ lack of positive expectation as a display of racial discrimination, and concluded that low expectations from the schools and teachers were among the reasons why her black peers did not aspire to academic excellence.

Teachers and the school system do not expect Jamaican students, like myself, to excel in school. [They] don’t really push you to do better, there are people in my school who don’t even know their times-table, [they] say as long as you’re getting provincial standards then that’s fine… .

Although Shay was aware of these low expectations, she was determined to prove both her teachers and the school wrong. She worked hard at school to get good grades in all her classes and eventually made the honour roll. While the teachers’ lack of expectation could potentially deter students from engaging in learning, some black students, like Shay, in their determination to accomplish the education goals they had set for themselves, continued to work hard to prove their ability.

The girls offered observations of the school system that they deemed to be misrepresentations of their culture. In addition to being misrepresented in their ambitions, the participants also felt that teaching materials, style, and curriculum content remained irrelevant to their everyday lives. When asked about classroom practices, Shay said that current teaching approaches reflect her culture minimally.

I would expect to learn about my own religion and Jamaican culture, but no! In my culture, at least in my household, education is important, but I don’t feel our classroom reflects that.

This misrepresentation and cultural irrelevancy may explain why some black students frequently skipped class or acted out in school, yet these students were often branded as troublemakers and delinquents requiring disciplinary action. Shay commented on this negative aspect of her school.

Black boys have a stereotype [cast] around them that they will be trouble-makers causing problems in the classroom and are not really interested in education. I think those stereotypes are very strong because I remember, and I am not trying to point out race, whenever the white boy would do something wrong the teacher wouldn’t really say anything, she’d just be like …‘Cut it out,’ but if the bad guy, black guy, did something wrong, he’d get sent out [of] the classroom… .

Based on the examples above, it is clear that the students were cognizant of their school environment; they analyzed school practices to identify ways in which they felt they were being treated unfairly. In their opinion, these instances demonstrate how they were marginalized, categorized, and racialized. These insights pushed them to work harder in school. In fact, these girls seemed convinced that school was a mere reflection of the real world and their experience was preparing them to survive in the world beyond the classroom but, at times, they just went with what they described as the flow.

Substituting Social Capital

Black girls exploited community resources and support available to them, including peer relations, as an effective strategy to acquire academic success. They extended our understanding of what is commonly understood as social capital. These girls manipulated ways of decoding school culture with help from their peers, parents, and community groups. Peer groups served as a social network for the girls. Generally, their feelings about their peers and classmates had important implications for how they motivated themselves to succeed at learning and to stay grounded in school. Peer motivation existed either through imitation, competition, or direct assistance. Shay explained how her peers motivated her once when she was slacking off in school.

I notice that the people I hang with want to do something with their lives, they want to excel in school and it kinda pushes me. It definitely has helped me in surrounding myself with people who have ambition. When they are talking to me about grades, I realized that these people are going somewhere. I want to go somewhere too.

In other instances, the girls highlighted the role and strength of their mother who served as a source of inspiration. Most of the girls stated that they desired to achieve a university education because their mothers were deprived of such opportunities. In some cases, they were constantly reminded by their mothers to be better, in other cases it was a personal stance assumed by the girl herself. Vanessa told us how her mother directly and indirectly motivated her.

Sometimes she tells me that I have to do well in school, better than her and to be an example for my brother, but she doesn’t stress me all the time. But I know I want to go to university, she didn’t go, she never get that opportunity so I want to make her proud, but I also want to do it for myself. I want to be successful. At least I don’t have to work part time like my friends, she pays the bills and buy me food, so I kinda have to do well in school.

Despite the widespread belief that some black parents who have never had a formal education tend to devalue education, the mothers of these girls consistently supported their academic success. In a similar way, community members, especially from the local church, were like extended families who held high expectations of their performing well in school; they provided information and assistance when the schools failed. Jessica explained that her church and family played a significant role in her success alongside her knowledge of Jamaican culture and black history. Likewise,Vanessa explained that community support helped her when she was switching back and forth between the culture at home and at school. That she managed to survive at school while juggling different relationships suggests another dimension of the value of social networks. Generally, social capital, whether as resources or relationships, had significant bearing on the students’ academic success. Effective relationships between schools and families enrich academic performance. There is a general claim, however, that minority youth lack social capital, which inevitably lessens their opportunities for upward mobility. In fact, some scholars have argued that social capital explains the persistent poverty among racialized groups (Quillian and Redd 2008), but Stanton-Salazar (1997) asserts that marginalized youth must develop a “bicultural network orientation” (25) to negotiate between the dominant culture and their local culture. Yet, as we have seen, these girls learned to manipulate school space through peer networks and the unconventional support provided by their community and families to influence their educational outcomes. That these girls continued to accept the encouragement and support from whomever, and from wherever it was available was crucial to their success. This strategy is customary in black communities. For Evans-Winter (2011) a support system consisting of family, community, and school is vital to black girls’ resilience and must be available for students to draw from simultaneously to “buffer adversity” (135). In the end, the girls’ reactions to problems with schooling and their ability to establish ways of manipulating the school system demonstrated not only resistance but also resiliency. which also became an integral part of their identity.

Constructing Resistive Identity

Self-identity played a critical role in the girls’ achievements. In the process of strategizing different ways to excel in school, the girls created their own resistive identity. This concept encapsulates the ways in which they defined themselves in terms of their distinctive, yet shared characteristics, and influenced their ability to withstand hardships in an unfavorable learning environment. It captures their stories regarding the ways in which they coped with stress in school and society, and underscores the many factors that, taken together, shaped their identity. All four girls stressed that their relationship with God was vital and influential in their lives. Shay described her personality as God-given. “I don’t know, if I was in a different environment maybe I wouldn’t be this way, but I know God gave me a stubborn personality type, and it makes me want to persevere.” In addition, the girls demonstrated a high level of self-dependency, which sometimes appeared to be intuitive, and appeared at other times to have developed through experience. In support of the former, all four participants suggested that they could never quit school as had some of their peers. Vanessa commented on the difference between herself and her peers who had left school prematurely.

There is no real difference between me and them [dropouts], cos I’m not different from nobody, I struggle in school too, actually, the only difference is that I am here and they are not, but I have [a] goal, I can never quit school.

In relation to this point, the girls claimed that their resistive character was formed as a result of their upbringing and the values that their parents had instilled in them. Futhermore, the social environment, barriers in the school system, and the negative perceptions of black students pushed them to develop this sense of identity. Similar to the participants in Pomerantz and Raby’s (2001) research, the girls stressed the importance of being autonomous and self-reliant in achieving personal goals and academic success, as well as being necessary to thrive in school, if not in society.

Drawing on their Jamaican heritage, the girls saw the historical strength of their black female ancestors as crucial to shaping their resistive character. With a shared history of racial and gender discrimination, the girls claimed that as young black women they often felt obliged to work twice as hard as did their white peers to earn success and to gain recognition. Ananya and Jessica both reflected on the historical identity of black women. While Jessica defined being a black woman as “double jeopardy and oppressed in many ways,” Ananya referenced the assertive aspect of such an identity.

We are overcomers, and it is pretty empowering, like how back in the days females couldn’t like vote or anything, but we got through that, and then black people were the lowest class, and now we can be like everybody else.

Black women have lived under harsh conditions, yet many worked hard to support themselves and their families; they were responsible for the economic, social, and physical survival of their families and communities regardless of socioeconomic status, age, geographic location, or education. The girls owned this strength as part of their Jamaican heritage, naming it as key to their coping abilities and achievements.

For centuries, black women have used resistance to respond to oppression. Resistance demonstrates how individuals negotiate and struggle with structures, and create meanings of their own from these interactions. In contrast, resilience is the positive pattern of adaptation in the context of past or present adversity and is promoted by focusing on competence (Masten 2014; Bottrell 2009; Solórzano and Delgado-Bernal 2001). Overall, resistance among black women dates back to the years of slavery during which black women engaged in both active and passive forms of resistance, whether it was burning their master’s and his family’s clothes while ironing, purposefully putting the wrong ingredients in the food, or engaging in more active resistance such as Harriet Tubman’s—Black Moses—conducting the Underground Railroad2 or Viola Desmond’s initiating the fight for civil rights for black Canadians (Winks 2000; Backhouse 1994). Today, black women progress in what many still consider a gendered and racially discriminatory society. Although the girls seemed to merge acts of resistance to inform their version of resiliency, they expressed a conceptualization of the self that trumped any perceived ascriptive or imposed identity that operates through the logic of visibility and is historically and socially constructed. These identities include racial or gender categories (Moya 2009).

The girls embraced imposed identities insofar as they were acknowledging the shared history and struggles of their ancestors and women as influencing their identity but they rejected any negative classifications associated with being black women in contemporary society, such as the angry black woman (Koonce 2012; Evans-Winters 2011). This process of constructing resistive identities motivated these girls to renegotiate the assigned labels, disavow official expectations of themselves and, instead, live up to what Evans-Winters (2011) thinks of as dignified aspirations. These four girls embody Wane’s (2013) account of black Canadian feminism in that they used diverse knowledge including that of black history, feminism, and of how stereotypes work to embrace their own individual experiences. These girls strategically employed survival strategies and coping mechanisms to resist oppression and exert positive adaptation despite adversity. In the end, they carved out their own sense of identity, blackness, and womaness.

Discussion

A Different Kind of Black Womaness

The dynamics of these black girls’ experiences and the intersection of race and gender typify womanism. Womanism is both gender- and race-centric. Lindsay-Dennis (2015) states that it “stresses the importance of recognizing intergenerational strategies of survival as intuitive” (511). Based on our analysis of the girls’ narratives, we coined the term Black Womaness, which speaks to the girls’ experiences of race and gender. In many ways, the four girls’ construction of a resistive identity, their reaction to the schooling environment, and their conceptualization of their own individual self can be considered a different kind of blackness, a black womaness. Being a successful black girl was and is a performance of a different kind of black womaness. These girls deviated from the stereotypically black performance of being academically disengaged, lazy, or becoming dropouts, and the stereotypical black girl or woman, a popular version being sassy, loud, funny, neck-popping, finger-snapping, gum-popping, assertive, argumentative, and angry, to form an identity of their own—that of black womaness. Shay captured this meaning in her description of being a black girl.

Being a black female means that um, you can twerk, you can do bad things because you’re black and that’s all you’re good for as a girl, it means that you are funny, you are ratchet—that is the societal view. To me, being a black girl means that I am going to have to work a little bit harder than some people, just because I think as much as we want to say that racism is over and that we are free now, whatever, I still think that racism is everywhere … I think that it also means that I kinda have to be a bit stronger than some other people because there is one thing that people think that black girls are good at, but well, not gonna be me!

In her comments, Shay referred to the cultural respresentations of hypersexualized black women. Black womaness involves defying these stereotypical views. For these girls, black womaness means trying hard in school to achieve academic success, being outspoken, spiritual, and acknowledging and crediting their faith, peers, parents, and community as driving forces behind their positive attitudes and outlook on life. Black womaness is being very aware and proud of black women’s culture, history, and influences. It is redefining resistance through success that is measured largely by overcoming struggles, accomplishing personal goals, challenging the norms of schools, and unpacking the complexities of racial identities to re-form their own. These narratives constitute the performance of black womaness, a performance that reaffirms the multiplicity of blackness within black communities, especially the notion that blackness is not a homogenous identity.

Resistance shares a long history in the lives of black people. With different forms of resistance, self-defeating resistance is commonly cited as being prevalent among black youth. Self-defeating resistance is manifested through rebellion against the values and principles of the dominant culture without taking into consideration the social consequences of these actions. Self-defeating resistance worsens the oppressive state for marginalized individuals. For example, the refusal of black students to participate in learning will result in their academic underachievement. Our classification of the girls represented another form of resistance—a transformative resistance that involves a critique of oppression and a desire for social justice. It involves marginalized individuals strategically conforming, or taking risks as a way of gaining respect from members of the dominant culture or even from other marginalized individuals (Solórzano and Delgado-Bernal 2001). Black womaness represents this form of resistance. Black womaness involves resistance for liberation; these girls acknowledged the problems in their school and they silently desired and demanded change in the environment that oppressed them. Further, these girls’ display of resistance was influenced by their need to prove others, mainly their teachers, wrong. At the risk of being labelled, the girls responded to oppression in a transformative way. In some ways, the performance of black womaness counteracted negative, frequently cited views of black women as self-defeatingly rebellious, to highlight what Abrams et al. (2014) describe as the strong black woman schema or resilient matriarchs. While both perspectives have limitations, the girls opted for the strong black woman persona, deeming it necessary to survive when faced with the double jeopardy of being female and black.

Conclusion

If we move away from seeing black males as an overall representation of black students, female success stories offer a positive perspective. While much attention has been paid to black boys being academically disengaged, this article reports another version of black students’ experiences—the academic success of four black girls. In school, these girls strove to create a space of their own, a space in which their experiences, struggles, efforts, and accomplishments are validated and that offer them a sense of satisfaction.

What does this research mean for the education system? First, the girls’ narratives are reiterations of the fact that there are systemic barriers in the education system that continue to disadvantage minority students, despite a purported commitment to provide accessible education to all. Unlike the commonly perceived black student who refuses to participate in the system, these girls rebelled to transform their situation. Teachers and administrators ought to recognize the different perspectives in black communities and the inherited struggles with which students enter the classroom. Like these girls, some employ strategies to overcome obstacles. Education policies should reflect these unique positions to promote equitable education for not just black students, but for all students. This article contributes to the discussion on black students’ schooling in Canada and offers a perspective on girls’ education. The saying that if you educate a boy you educate a boy but if you educate a girl you educate a generation resonates with the girls’ experiences we have discussed here. Education and success for these four girls was not only personal, it was transformative. The girls’ narratives demonstrate the importance of educating girls and disseminating their stories. As recipients of historical, systemic, intersectional discrimination, the girls acknowledged that they have to work harder than their male and white counterparts to succeed. As Harris (2015) puts it, “Our authentic collective and individual selves are usually hidden by racist and sexist stereotypes that we can’t seem to shake—or rather, images that other folks won’t let us shake” (xii). By using challenges as motivation, admitting to their needs, and relying on their internal locus of control to create a cultural and gendered presence in their schools, they modeled a route that other students can imitate. In the end, their ultimate goal was always to access opportunities, gain respect, and have the opportunity to enjoy a learning environment in which they are valued as individuals, instead of having always to debunk preconceived myths about their gender, culture, ancestors, and race.

Notes
1

We have used the pseudonyms these girls selected.

2

History.com. 2009. “Harriet Tubman.” http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/harriet-tubman (accessed 25 March 2016).

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  • Koonce, Jacqueline B. 2012. “Oh, Those Loud Black Girls!” A Phenomenological Study of Black Girls Talking with an Attitude. Journal of Language and Literacy Education 8, no. 2: 2646. http://jolle.coe.uga.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Loud-Black-Girls.pdf (accessed 30 April 2016).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • James, Carl E. 2012. “Students ‘at Risk’: Stereotypes and the Schooling of Black Boys.” Urban Education 47, no. 2: 464494.

  • Lindsay-Dennis, LaShawnda. 2015. “Black Feminist-Womanist Research Paradigm Toward a Culturally Relevant Research Model Focused on African American Girls.” Journal of Black Studies 46, no.5: 506520. doi:10.1177/0021934715583664

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Masten, Ann. S. 2014. Ordinary Magic: Resilience in Development. New York: Guilford.

  • Moya, Paula L M. 2009. “What’s Identity Got to Do with it? Mobilizing Identities in the Multicultural Classroom.” Pp. 96117 in Identity in Education, ed. Susan Sanchez-Casal and Amie A. MacDonald. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Phillips, Layli, and Barbara McCaskill. 2006. “Who’s Schooling Who? Black Women and the Bringing of Everyday into Academe, or Why we Started Womanist.” Pp. 8595 in The Womanist Reader, Layli Phillips. New York: Routledge.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pomerantz, Shauna, and Rebeca Raby. 2011. “Oh, She’s so Smart”: Girls Complex Engagements with Post/feminist Narratives of Academic Success. Gender & Education 23 no. 5: 549564.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Quillian, Lincoln, and Rozlyn Redd. 2008. “Can Social Capital Explain Persistent Racial Poverty Gaps?” Pp. 170197 in The Colors of Poverty, ed. Ann Chih Lin and David R. Harris. New York: Russell Sage.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rollock, Nicola. 2007. “Why Black Girls Don’t Matter: Exploring How Race and Gender Shape Academic Success in an Inner City School.” Support for Learning 22, no. 4: 197202.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Solórzano Daniel G, and Delores Delgado-Bernal. 2001. “Examining Transformational Resistance through a Critical Race and LatCrit Theory Framework: Chicana and Chicano Students in an Urban Context.” Urban Education 36, no. 3: 308342.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stanton-Salazar, Ricardo. 1997. “A Social Capital Framework for Understanding the Socialization of Racial Minority Children and Youths.” Harvard Educational Review 67, no. 1: 141.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Thomas, Veronica G. 2004. “The Psychology of Black Women: Studying Women’s Lives in Context.” Journal of Black Psychology 30, 286306.

  • Voyer, Daniel, and Susan Voyer. 2014. “Gender Differences in Scholastic Achievement: A Meta-Analysis. University of New Brunswick.” Psychological Bulletin 140, no. 4: 11741204.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wane, Njoki. 2013. “Uncovering the Well: Black Feminism in Canada.” Pp. 321 in Ruptures: Anti-Colonial & Anti-Racist Feminist Theorizing, ed. Njoki Wane, Jennifer Jagire and Zahra Murad. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wilson, Ciann, and Sarah Flicker. 2015. “Picturing Transactional $ex: Ethics, Challenges and Possibilities.” Pp. 7326 in Participatory Visual and Digital Research in Action, ed. Aline Gubrium, Krista Harper and Marty Otañez. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, Inc.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Winks, Robin. 2000. The Blacks in Canada. Ontario: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

  • Yussen, Steve R, and N.M. Ozcan. 1997. “The Development of Knowledge about Narratives. Issues in Educational Psychology.” Contributions from Educational Psychology 2:168.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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Contributor Notes

Rowena Linton, a recent graduate of the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, is interested in black girls’ identity and success, black feminism, and social justice education. She hopes to further her studies in social justice education and is especially interested in applying social justice theory and practice to teaching and learning pedagogies.

Lorna McLean is a Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. She conducts research on the history of education, gender, citizenship, and curriculum and teaches graduate courses related to historical narratives and education, public history, and the social contexts of education.

Girlhood Studies

An Interdisciplinary Journal

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  • Backhouse, Constance. 1994. “Racial Segregation in Canadian Legal History: Viola Desmond’s Challenge, NovaScotia, 1946.” The Dalhousie Law Journal 17, no. 2: 299362.

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  • Clandinin, Jean D. 2006. Handbook of Narrative Inquiry: Mapping a Methodology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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  • Codjoe, Henry M. 2005. “Africans in the Canadian Educational System: An Analysis of Positionality and Knowledge Construction.” Pp. 6391 in The African Diaspora in Canada: Negotiating Identity and Belonging, ed. Wisdom J. Tettey and Korbla P. Puplampu. Calgary, AB: The University of Calgary Press.

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  • Cooper, Afua P. 2002. “Black Women and Work in Nineteenth-century Canada West: Black Woman Teacher Mary Bibb.” Pp.117123 in Back to the Drawing Board: African-Canadian Feminisms, ed. Njoki Wane, Katerina Deliovsky and Erica Lawson. Toronto: Sumach Press.

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  • Collins, Patricia Hill. 2000. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

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  • Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 1989. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989, no. 1: 139167.

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  • Creswell, John W. 2013. Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing among Five Approaches. (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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  • Evans-Winters, Venus. E. 2011. Teaching Black Girls: Resiliency in Urban Classrooms. (Revised ed.). New York: Peter Lang.

  • Harris, Tamara Winfey. 2015. The Sisters are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

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  • hooks, bell. 2000. Feminism is for Everybody. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

  • Hull, Gloria. T, Patricia Bell-Scott, and Barbara Smith, eds. 1982. All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us are Brave: Black Women’s Studies. New York: Feminist Press.

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  • Koonce, Jacqueline B. 2012. “Oh, Those Loud Black Girls!” A Phenomenological Study of Black Girls Talking with an Attitude. Journal of Language and Literacy Education 8, no. 2: 2646. http://jolle.coe.uga.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Loud-Black-Girls.pdf (accessed 30 April 2016).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • James, Carl E. 2012. “Students ‘at Risk’: Stereotypes and the Schooling of Black Boys.” Urban Education 47, no. 2: 464494.

  • Lindsay-Dennis, LaShawnda. 2015. “Black Feminist-Womanist Research Paradigm Toward a Culturally Relevant Research Model Focused on African American Girls.” Journal of Black Studies 46, no.5: 506520. doi:10.1177/0021934715583664

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Masten, Ann. S. 2014. Ordinary Magic: Resilience in Development. New York: Guilford.

  • Moya, Paula L M. 2009. “What’s Identity Got to Do with it? Mobilizing Identities in the Multicultural Classroom.” Pp. 96117 in Identity in Education, ed. Susan Sanchez-Casal and Amie A. MacDonald. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Phillips, Layli, and Barbara McCaskill. 2006. “Who’s Schooling Who? Black Women and the Bringing of Everyday into Academe, or Why we Started Womanist.” Pp. 8595 in The Womanist Reader, Layli Phillips. New York: Routledge.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pomerantz, Shauna, and Rebeca Raby. 2011. “Oh, She’s so Smart”: Girls Complex Engagements with Post/feminist Narratives of Academic Success. Gender & Education 23 no. 5: 549564.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Quillian, Lincoln, and Rozlyn Redd. 2008. “Can Social Capital Explain Persistent Racial Poverty Gaps?” Pp. 170197 in The Colors of Poverty, ed. Ann Chih Lin and David R. Harris. New York: Russell Sage.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rollock, Nicola. 2007. “Why Black Girls Don’t Matter: Exploring How Race and Gender Shape Academic Success in an Inner City School.” Support for Learning 22, no. 4: 197202.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Solórzano Daniel G, and Delores Delgado-Bernal. 2001. “Examining Transformational Resistance through a Critical Race and LatCrit Theory Framework: Chicana and Chicano Students in an Urban Context.” Urban Education 36, no. 3: 308342.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stanton-Salazar, Ricardo. 1997. “A Social Capital Framework for Understanding the Socialization of Racial Minority Children and Youths.” Harvard Educational Review 67, no. 1: 141.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Thomas, Veronica G. 2004. “The Psychology of Black Women: Studying Women’s Lives in Context.” Journal of Black Psychology 30, 286306.

  • Voyer, Daniel, and Susan Voyer. 2014. “Gender Differences in Scholastic Achievement: A Meta-Analysis. University of New Brunswick.” Psychological Bulletin 140, no. 4: 11741204.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wane, Njoki. 2013. “Uncovering the Well: Black Feminism in Canada.” Pp. 321 in Ruptures: Anti-Colonial & Anti-Racist Feminist Theorizing, ed. Njoki Wane, Jennifer Jagire and Zahra Murad. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wilson, Ciann, and Sarah Flicker. 2015. “Picturing Transactional $ex: Ethics, Challenges and Possibilities.” Pp. 7326 in Participatory Visual and Digital Research in Action, ed. Aline Gubrium, Krista Harper and Marty Otañez. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, Inc.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Winks, Robin. 2000. The Blacks in Canada. Ontario: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

  • Yussen, Steve R, and N.M. Ozcan. 1997. “The Development of Knowledge about Narratives. Issues in Educational Psychology.” Contributions from Educational Psychology 2:168.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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