Women, Gender, and Families of Color is proud to announce its spring 2019 special issue on Black girlhood and kinship, guest edited by Corinne Field (University of Virginia) and LaKisha Michelle Simmons (University of Michigan). Below is an excerpt of their introduction, followed by information on the issue’s authors and content. We hope readers will enjoy engaging with the collection and reconsidering the complex experiences of Black girls via their relationships, expressions of creativity, and political aspirations. The issue is available now in print and online through JSTOR and Project MUSE.
Introduction to Special Issue: Black Girlhood and Kinship
“My child, your father is dead.” . . . I thought I should be allowed to go to my father’s house the next morning; but I was ordered to go for flowers, that my mistress’s house might be decorated for an evening party. I spent the day gathering flowers and weaving them into festoons, while the dead body of my father was lying within a mile of me. What cared my owners for that? he was merely a piece of property. Moreover, they thought he had spoiled his children, by teaching them to feel that they were human beings.Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)
By invoking the materiality of love and loss, from the perspective of an orphaned, enslaved Black girl, Harriet Jacobs demonstrates how kinship engages all of the self—feelings, senses, memory, touch, and embodiment. Jacobs remembered the beautiful ugliness of the flowers that took her attention away from “wake work,” away from being with her beloved father’s body (Sharpe 2016). At the beginning of her narrative, Jacobs situates herself within her family, demonstrating the bonds between herself, her brother, her grandmother, and her father. She received unconditional love from them, but importantly, she also learned a sense of self-worth, she learned to view herself as a “human being.” These bonds that built her up were precarious; premature death took her father and a white woman’s command interrupted the family rituals of mourning. As Jacobs engages with how Black enslaved girls faced divided claims, obligations, and loyalties, her text opens up questions about how Black girls came to see themselves as worthy and how they searched for the missing pieces of self that were left behind.
This special issue on kinship in Black girls’ worlds considers a wide range of intimate relationships from the nuclear family sustained by Jacobs’s love for her father, through guardianship contracts imposed upon formerly enslaved girls in Senegal, to supportive social media networks created by high-school girls in Richmond, Virginia. By considering all of these relationships as forms of kinship, we can better appreciate how Black girls forge intimate bonds where they can be loved, cherished, and supported—as Jacobs found from her father—and also how these hopes sometimes end in disappointment, betrayal, and loss—as Jacobs also realized at a young age. By keeping youth in mind, we can understand how Black girls’ experience of family differs from that of their mothers and grandmothers and begin to rewrite the study of kinship from Black girls’ perspectives.
This issue grew out of a conference, “The Global History of Black Girlhood,” at the University of Virginia in 2017. An interdisciplinary and intergenerational conversation among scholars, activists, and students interested in the historical experience of Black girls in Africa, Europe, and the Americas, this conference considered Black girls’ self-understandings, creativity, relationships and political aspirations. By focusing this special issue of Women, Gender, and Families of Color on the subject of kinship and Black girls in a diasporic framework, we draw attention to how coming of age is a relational process, how girls seek both interdependence and independence in relation with others.
Black girls’ studies has emerged as a consolidated field of interdisciplinary research in the past thirteen years. Scholars in the field have pursued a number of different approaches: linking Black girls’ creativity to the development of popular culture, rethinking the historical archive to highlight age as a category of analysis, using an intersectional lens to examine the marginalization of Black girls in narratives of state violence, studying the ways in which childhood innocence has excluded Black girls leading to adultification, and working with Black girls themselves—or in the ethnographic tradition—to (re)create definitions of girlhood and survival. Much of the work in the field thus far has centered on Black girlhood in the United States; nonetheless, the field has continued to grow as scholars have focused on girls in Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean while working to think through the differences and similarities in diasporic girlhoods. The goal of this special issue is to continue to push the conversation in Black girls’ studies by asking, what modes of analysis help scholars better understand Black girls’ sense of self and the ways in which they navigate the world around them? The authors in this special issue suggest that paying attention to intimacy, relationships and kinship can help scholars of Black girlhood better understand girls’ own perspective on themselves and their worlds.
Black Girlhood and Kinship: A Special Issue
“How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?”: Black German Girlhood and the Historical Entanglements of Nation
Sonya Donaldson, New Jersey City University
Runaways, Dutiful Daughters, and Brides: Family Strategies of Formerly Enslaved Girls in Senegal, 1895-1911
Kelly M. Duke Bryant, Rowan University
Fugitive Literati: Black Girls’ Writing as a Tool of Kinship and Power at the Howard School
Tammy C. Owens, Hampshire College
When Social Media Yields More than “Likes”: Black Girls’ Digital Kinship Formations
Ashleigh Wade, Rutgers University
In the Life: On Black Queer Kinship
Kai M. Green, Williams College