The Black Girl Voice:

A Yell for a Social Approach

The voice has always been a weapon that can be utilized to ensure violence is inflicted, while simultaneously having the ability to create tension peacefully. We are told at a young age that actions speak louder than words, or vice versa, but the reality is that the voice can yell. Place the voice inside of a box and hear it scream. Place it on a mountain top and hear the voice of triumph. There is a duality in voice where one can choose to hear and listen no matter what – or ignore what is being articulated so loudly and clearly.

Under a Black feminist framework the voice has been a key tool utilized in aiding, resisting, and altering the world occupied by systems that perpetuate the present and the past. While patriarchal ideals prioritize identities and give privilege, the Black body has seldom been granted these opportunities – especially the bodies of Black women. This gave way to initiatives like the Combahee River Collective as well as Gloria T. Hull and Barbara Smith’s “The Politics of Black Women's Studies,” where the collective goal was to liberate Black women from the oppression of a world that ignores the duplicity of zo subjugation as women who are Black. Under Black feminism, rises to the skies the praxis of Black Girlhood Studies. Within this field is the understanding that Black girl voices are elemental truths to the understanding of the world – but largely ignored or rendered mute by the ways society operates on and around Black girls. In this piece, the nature of Black girl voices through storytelling which validates zo as sources of knowledge, praxis, and power is discussed. While there are programs that assist Black girls in unearthing their voices to be as loud as possible, these initiatives follow what I define to be the individual model. Similar to the medical model of disability that treats the disabled individual as a headache that needs to be relieved, Ruth Nicole Brown’s Black Girlhood Celebration argues that programs perpetuate the individual Black girl as an issue needing to be solved. In response and in closing, a social model unveiled by Brown and others addresses that the Black girl is a body that systems operate on; therefore, addressing systems as the problem rather than the individual helps to return childhood back to Black girls, keeps zo safe from adultification, and celebrates them.

While the power of a voice is often thought of as audible, Black girl’s voices take on many mediums – one of which is storytelling as a means of representing zo’s knowledge as valid truths. In Toni Cade Bambara’s “Education of the Storyteller,” the idea of the Black girl voice vocalizing an individual reality is brought to fruition through a personal account of Bambara’s childhood. Zo’s grandmother asks a young Bambara, “what are you pretending not to know” sparking the idea that there is knowledge within the Black girl (Bambara, 1996; pp. 225). In juxtaposition to theory, Bambara feels that what is in zo’s mind does not equate to the “truth” that is science, but zo’s grandmother disagrees. Black women are capable of telling a “tale of resistance” and zo know “how to walk on water” so nothing should keep zo from finding a way to “tell the tale” and “speak your speak” (Bambara, 19996; pp. 254-255). In other words, within the Black girl’s body and mind is an experience of the world that must be affirmed as a valid perspective on how things operate. “10 years of Black Girlhood Celebration,” by Chamara Kwayke, Dominique C. Hill, and Durell Callier, emphasizes the same message about Black girls' voices. Zo says that the voice of the Black girl deliberately or innocently addressing topics must be recognized when “questioning of the systems and circumstances pressing upon the livelihoods of Black girls” (Kwayke et al., 2017; pp. 4). Too often have Black girls been removed from conversations that are entirely about zo and in calling zo in, “we must assume they are right” as the knowledge zo produces and the experiences zo have tell many truths (Kwayke et al., 2017; pp. 4). A wonderful example of this is presented through Herriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, where zo’s autobiography illustrates the experiences zo had as a young enslaved girl. Facing situations of violence, mistreatment, sexual assault, and so much more, zo’s work is presently understood as not only an interpretation of 19th century enslavement, but a truth. This ideas carries over into many like Bell Hooks’ Bone Black, whose autobiography tells zo’s veracity in growing up in a world where zo had to rebell, as it is a story of “a girl inventing herself”' with the “ultimate goal of being a writer” (Hooks, 1996; pp. xi) Hooks says how  “girlhood is a time where females feel free and powerful,'' wonderfully encompassing another reason that the knowledge and stories zo have are not only truths – but necessary to be heard (Hooks, 1996; pp. xi).

Within Ruth Nicole Brown’s Black Girlhood Celebration Toward a Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy,” zo addresses how one of the methods attempting to progress the vocal truths of Black girls is established girl empowerment programs – yet these curriculums fall short. Brown says that “the purpose of coming together under a less than all-encompassing label like Black girlhood is felt by us to be worthwhile,” meaning that there is an understanding that programming is attempting to do good for the Black girls by creating a shared collective space for zo to move unhindered through (Brown, 2009; pp. 21). However, this is hard to come by in a programed space as “experience has taught [zo] that you cannot program Black girlhood celebration” as there is no event or club that is “capable of positively working for every girl involved” (Brown, 2009; pp. 25) Black girls come from so many different directions and walk as winding of a path as they come with bags packed to the brim, and it “cannot be absorbed into a single structure that was not even possibly created by Black girls themselves” (Brown, 2009; pp. 25). These programs that Black girls are either forcefully placed into to ‘better themselves’ or voluntarily choose to join, perpetuate placing the Black girl in a singular or minimal set of categories – and in doing so are “responsible for inventing their own oppressive memories and meanings of Black girlhood. Furthermore, they support what I call the individual model, something similar to the medical model in Feminist disability studies.

Under this model, the Black girl is viewed as an adult with the “capability to transform the rules and resources” within systems and society (Brown, 2009; pp. 27). In other words, Black girls are removed from any possibility of being categorized as innocent due to the fact that they are adultified and rendered agents of this world at such a young age through programming. Zo is placed on a pedestal and asked to take initiative in ways that no other child is asked to. Black girls are read as more mature by systems and the people that operate within them and expected to be adults rather than the girls they know they are within. Furthermore, programming “requires the recognition that power is ever-present and ever-working” and places on the black body the role of  “political actors” (Brown, 2009; pp. 27). Being casted as a political agent within the individual model ultimately leaves Black girls “responsible for creating new social practices whereby the actions of program participants are not interpreted as disruptions to the goals of the program but indicative of the program’s program and [zo] potential to make power” (Brown, 2009; pp. 27). While programming has, on the outward end, good intentions for the Black girl, it ultimately adultifies zo and renders zo agents of responsibility for the way power operates. Thus programming is a way of blaming the Black body for how power operates on them.

As a response to the shortcomings of programming and the individual model, I raise – alongside Brown as well as Kwayke et al. (2017) – a social model that can be utilized in celebrating Black girlhood. The social model calls for the understanding that power “working with Black girls is understood in a historical, sociopolitical, cultural, and educational context that allows for the possibilities of transformative processes and critical collective projects” as the Black girl is no longer deemed responsible for how power operates on them (Brown, 2009; pp. 29). Thus, the social model is an “explicitly political approach to Black Girlhood” where each and every girl is understood to have a different voice – and ultimately a different truth to their understanding of the world (Brown, 2009; pp. 29). Similarly Kwayke et al. grasp the timing of the social model as zo says that the “future of black girlhood studies lies somewhere in our past and present” as “there is a legacy” to build off of and add to endlessly (Kwayke et al. 2017; pp. 6). “Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths” (SOLHOT) is a visceral response to the past and a collective approach to the future. The “celebration of Black girlhood is about creating space where ways of being alone together depend on each one of the narratives [zo] create that speaks who we are and want to be into existence”(Brown, 2009; pp. 30). While SOLHOT may be considered programming to some, unlike programs, it creates a space for Black girls to be their own story tellers and cultivate a narrative that is quite literally authored by their voice. Here, the voice is as loud and as quiet as the Black girl agent chooses, and if that means yelling – a place like SOLHOT is ready to listen.

Under a social model, the individual is no longer blamed for the way power operates on zo. In blaming the individual, the voice is suppressed, but with a social epistemology towards Black girlhood celebration, the stories and narratives that the individual Black girl creates throughout the past, present, and future is solemnly sworn to be – and represented as a truth. SOLHOT is a representation of the social model and a beautiful augmentation of the celebration that Black girls deserve. When it is recognized that the girlhood in Black women does not disappear and is a constant in a Black girl agent, Black girlhood is forever celebrated as a part of the Black female experience. Ultimately it liberates them from systems that strip them of childhood through adultification – allowing them to go about the world with voices capable of telling beautiful stories and intricate truths of the Black girl.

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Word Count: 1561 without in-text citations


I would like to acknowledge first off that much of the resources I have been using as well as the facilities that I have benefited from are located at Colgate University. Colgate University is situated on the Oneida Nation’s land, one of the nations of the Haudenosaunee people.

Furthermore I would like to acknowledge my peers in Corridors of Black Girlhood for all of zos incredibly thoughtful ideas in class as well as outside that have contributed to my understanding of the subject. Zo inspire me every week. I would also like to thank Professor Dominique C. Hill  for zo’s patience, wonderful feedback through the weeks, and intriguing discussions. They inspired this work and helped to facilitate its outcome.


Kwakye, C. J., Hill, D. C., & Callier, D. M. (2017). 10 years of black girlhood celebration. Departures in Critical Qualitative Research, 6(3), 1–10.

Brown, R. N. (2009). Black girlhood celebration: Toward a hip-hop feminist pedagogy. New York: Peter Lang.

Bambara, C. Toni (1996); “Education of a Storyteller”

hooks, bell. (1996). Bone black: Memories of girlhood (1. Owl Book ed). Holt.

Brown, R. N. (2009). Black girlhood celebration: Toward a hip-hop feminist pedagogy. New York: Peter Lang.

Bambara, C. Toni (1996); “Education of a Storyteller”