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Black Girl Childhood Is A Myth

Her Voice

Black womanhood is like an exclusive club. A sisterhood.


We are bonded by our likeness and our differences; our diversity. But we are also bonded by the adversity we face as a collective. Lucky for us (because it hasn't always been this way), social media has allowed for all Black women to feel seen, heard, and connected to other Black women. Even those who didn't have the pleasure of growing up around other Black girls. During tough times, we see heavy themes echoed amongst black women about their childhood.

Being a little Black girl is having to grow up too fast and being sexualized too young.

It's being overly self-aware in a way that other children are not.

It's being treated like an adult because you lack the "fragility" of your white counterparts, and the "boys will be boys" excuse afforded to your male counterparts.

For me specifically, being a little Black girl was being sexualized too early. It was being aware that I was not afforded the same carefree-ness as other kids. It was, and is, feeling like many aspects of childhood were privileges that I was not fortunate enough to be born into.

I did everything while keeping in mind the worst thing I could appear to be was "fast." My sexuality was being controlled before I was old enough to even think about sexuality.

I sat on top of a table at the laundromat, eight years old, legs dangling from the edge of the table, open, swinging freely. My mom was taking clothes out of the dryer with her back to me. I was going on and on about some childhood thing of dire importance at the time. My mom turned around and stared at me. I stopped talking. "What?"

"Close your legs."

I scrunched up my face. "...For what??" I questioned rather skeptically for an 8-year-old. I really didn't get it.

"It's not lady-like," she answered as she turned around to continue folding.

I was visibly irritated. "I have on pants…"

Silence.

"That doesn't even make sense," I said. "There's nothing between my legs mom… It makes more sense for BOYS to have to close their legs because there's SOMETHING there!"

More silence.

It was driving me up a wall. What did I need to close my legs for?

I felt gross. Like I was doing something dirty and obscene.

I completely understand the reason behind my mom's comment. You want to do everything you can to protect your child from potential danger. You worry that a man will see a person with female anatomy and want to penetrate. While the responsibility not to rape lies FULLY on men, the responsibility to protect your child lies on the parents. Ultimately, the responsibility to protect your child causes many parents to lean in to rape culture – telling their young girls what to do to avoid being victimized instead of telling their young boys not to be trash. I was being told to close my legs for fear that a man would see my open legs and want to enter me.

In another instance, I played outside with my older male cousin. I wanted to be just like him. I did everything he did. I was around nine years old. His dad, my uncle, drove down the street to pick him up. He jumped up and down, excited to see his dad, and I did the same. We both ran over to his dad who picked me up to hug me. I heard my mom call my name. "Brittany! It's time to come inside!"

My uncle put me down and I ran inside. "Don't let him pick you up anymore. You're too big for that now," my mom ordered as I walked into the house.

"Why not?"

"You're too old to be having a grown man pick you up. It's inappropriate."

Once again, I felt dirty. Like I was doing something wrong. Instead of the adult in the situation being confronted (although he was also doing nothing wrong in my opinion, even in retrospect as an adult), I was being confronted. The responsibility for the actions of an adult man was being placed on me. I felt embarrassed, like I had done something obscene without realizing it.

I felt it again when I was around 10 years old. My parents and I took a trip to my godparents' house. When we got there, my godbrother, who was 21 at the time, asked me if I wanted to take a trip to Toys R Us to pick out some toys. Of course, I said sure. We went, I got a toy, and returned without incident. On the car ride back home from my godparents' house, I could sense tension. I felt like I was in trouble for something, but the car was silent. Finally, my dad broke the silence.

"Next time a man asks you if you want to go anywhere with him… say no. Just to be safe."

Once again, I felt accountable for the potential misactions of adult men.

While each of these instances sound small, they sent very strong signals. They made me feel as though if something were to happen to me, it would be because of a misjudgement on my part. Like if a man one day decided to take advantage of me, somehow it would be my fault. I felt like it was my responsibility to make sure that I didn't provoke men with my barely-developed body. I was acutely aware of my body, of men looking at my body, and of seeming "fast." While this may sound "better safe than sorry," it came at the cost of a blissful, carefree childhood.

Being sexualized too early strips young Black girls of the childhood bliss afforded to most other children. As the world struggles to see us as children, we are being being thrust into a mode of hyper self-awareness that most other children aren't entrenched in until damn near adulthood. This unwanted, victim-blaming responsibility that we carry around causes a lot of shame when something happens to us.

We're supposed to be strong, independent, and self-sufficient. We aren't afforded assumed fragility. We don't get to be the victims.

It's tiring, it's painful, and it's time to stop normalizing these microaggressions.

Fortunately, now we, the former little Black girls, are in control. We're responsible for making sure the next generation of little Black girls don't have it as hard as we did. With social media making it easier to not feel so alone, we can commiserate with other Black women who may have similar experiences and ensure this toxicity ends with us. Being a #carefreeblack girl shouldn't be something that has to be learned. Little Black girls deserve to be truly carefree from the start and we're doing a damn good job of making that a reality.

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissions@xonecole.com.

Featured image by Getty Images

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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