- Uncovering Black Girlhood(s):Black Girl Pleasures as Anti-respectability Methodology
Black girlhood is a site of pleasure, often overlooked, yet visible to those committed to allowing Black girls to just be. It is through our varied work and training in Saving Our Lives, Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT) that we, the authors, are reminded and understand Black girls to be creators and innovators working from pleasure.1 Envisioned by Ruth Nicole Brown, SOLHOT, an intentional and intergenerational practice of Black girlhood celebration, creates space for middle-school-aged Black girls to be teachers and collaborators of freedom practices, presence, and what it requires to hold space and the weight of brilliance. Knowing how to create and hold space for Black girls is important because too often Black girls are not allowed to show up whole and with a self-awareness that magnifies their genius and ingenuity. The creation of space for Black girlhood in our research and practice necessitates an anti-respectability methodology rooted in centering Black girlhood pleasures that centers the ways we are in community with each other and what manifests from the community we create.
Pleasure, as we know it to be experienced and expressed through our organizing work with SOLHOT, is produced when we dismantle systems of power that seek to infringe on our ability to be our whole selves. Black girlhood pleasure as a method of anti-respectability, then, must move us away from dominant desires to only know Black girls through deficit frames or to name Black girls' vulnerabilities due to their social locations within a society that has never cared for or about Black girls. To do so, we argue, requires a rootedness in Black girls' aesthetics of love, reliability, funk, and performance. Arriving at this mode of anti-respectability methodology required individual and collective unlearning that allowed us to hear Black girls differently. And it is through our listening to Black girls differently and generating theory and praxis based on who Black girls say they are that we have moved away from dominant and [End Page 191] simplistic ways of hearing and attempting to guide Black girls. In this essay we employ those listening practices to reverb what we know differently because of the community we have created with Black girls. Here, we do not claim to speak for all Black girls; rather, we speak to and about the Black girls we have worked with and what they have shared with us. We believe this understanding gives us and social justice advocates a starting point to better comprehend the material conditions for Black girls everywhere while attuning specifically to an often undertheorized population.
To think of pleasure as inclusive of but not limited to sexuality, we turn to Jessica Robinson, who in Wish to Live: The Hip-Hop Feminism Pedagogy Reader, asks a very important question: "Can we be for Black girls and against their sexuality?"2 Robinson pushes readers to consider sexuality through the lens of comprehensive education and not as demonized actions reserved for adults. We, those who love Black girls, are urged to consider that Black girls themselves have agency and possess the tools necessary to make decisions about their bodies. By understanding the autonomy that Black girls have over their bodies when they are equipped with comprehensive sex education that does not shame their bodies or situate them as receptacles for the pleasures of others, we are able to see Black girls and Black girlhood as whole and complete—emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. This is significant because it opens conversations that are typically closed off from Black girlhood or are often engaged in a way that polices the bodies and decisions of Black girls and views them as "bad," "immoral," or trauma-centered. Her work leads us far from conversations of respectability and challenges us to consider the ways that a more anti-respectability approach would allow Black girls to be central to their own experiences.
Anti-respectability has been considered by fields such as Black studies3 and Black girlhood studies.4 When engaging anti-respectability as a methodology...