Monday, February 25, 2013

There is No Girlhood Here: Reading the Reading of Quvenzhane Wallis

"If you White you alright/ If you Black Step Back" the lyrics of this 1967 folk song captures the story line of Black and White girlhood. Some in society espouse the notion of multiculturalism to promote an ideal of post feminism and post racism. Post racialism and post feminism are ideologies that function to suggest that racial differences and gender discrimination are no longer salient (see McRobbie 2004). However, the discursive practices deployed actually work to reinscribe racalized and gender tropes and hierarchies. The recent tweet concerning the young actress Quvenzhane Wallis is by ONE incident that makes evident how the construction of Black girlhood embodies racalized and gendered tropes that strips them of their girlhood and by default their innocence even in a "post" racial and "post" gender society.

The underlying societal assumptions about Black girls and the women they become are particularly evident in the recent construction of this young girl. The construction of girlhood is not monolithic and is indeed shaped by various social processes and ideologies (see Jiwani, Steenbergen & Mitchell 2006). However, Black girlhood tends to be overlaid with the stereotypical construction of Black womanhood. From girlhood, the Black body is marked along racialized gender boundaries for a particular functioning in society. The dominant discursive practices tend to represent Black girls in a rather monolithic manner and portrays them as failing to conform to the ideals of virtue, piety and hard work—the antithesis of White girlhood and womanhood. Consequently, the construction of Black girlhood produces and reproduces a narrative that is familiar in terms of our understandings of race, class and gender.

When, and if, Black girls/teens are part of our public conversations, they are typically constructed as “pathological.” Consider that much of what appears in the public domain focuses on issues of teen pregnancy, poverty and welfare use, juvenile delinquency and (poor) school performance, for example. These conversations work to negativize black girls’ behavior.

The often-negative images imposed on Black women’s bodies are mapped onto the bodies of Black girls. Thus, there are really no "black girls," there are only "black women." Often, Black girls are thought of as: uncontrollable and womanish; poverty-stricken, living in violent and unstable homes, and as unredeemable. In essence, the Black girl is a failure in the making—a long-term potential societal problem. Construction of Black girlhood hints at anxieties in this new-so-called social and economic order. This manner of “seeing” Black girls is then used to justify her surveillance, both by the state and by private individuals. The now (in)famous tweet does just that. It says to Miss Wallis and other Black girls, no matter what you do, "we" have the power to define you regardless of your age. And since we have the right to exercise such power, "we" will keep you in your place, primarily by stripping you of the one political/cultural asset we give to children--innocence. 

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