My Turn, Ash Love: Free Black girls from white approval

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 16, 2022

By Ash Love

If we are fortunate enough, southern Black girls in small southern communities after the school bell rings trek over the doorsteps of their homes with heavy book bags to chatter with their loved ones of the misadventures of a school day. 

Southern Black girls might chatter in a group text with their friends however await the care of their loved one to embrace them and ask, “How was your day.” If we are fortunate enough, we may witness a twinkle in the eyes of southern Black girls while they fawn over an adolescent love interest, a soprano squeal of elation with new gossip, and the uncontaminated childlike joy, real God joy, that once vibrated the internal systems of an adult, once a child of such joy. 

Joy cometh in the morning for us yet thrives in the closest living thing to God: southern Black girls. While the retelling of the school day may begin with light, there are times we witness southern Black girls share a story in their generation’s language that obstructs the settled spirit of their loved ones. How tragic are those times when Southern Black girls experience the menace of racism during the school day without the language to narrate the shifts in their spirits?

A few weeks ago, I read an opinion piece from a community member about how civilized and well-behaved the North Rowan cheerleaders were during the National Anthem at a basketball game. The article went on to quote the adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” abstractly unmasking, maybe unknowingly, the perils of racial micro-aggressions and broadly a sick and biased obsession with how Black folks, in this case southern Black girls, are intelligent enough to maintain a standard of whiteness that renders us acceptable

The article that was written as praise piece for the North Rowan cheerleaders, majority Black children, leaked the venomous history of white approval deeply rooted in a Southern culture of racism. Let me ask you: why should it be a surprise that cheerleaders cheer and honor our country during the National Anthem? Why should their sportsmanship be a bombshell? Why should their conduct impress a white woman in the South? What “cover” and why would any child be judged for simply enjoying an extracurricular activity? 

Weeks later, a white male, approached the North Rowan cheerleaders to express his approval of their athletic competency. In not so many words, he explained that their gyration, twist of their hips and overall entertaining performance pleased him. 

Historically, Black boys and Black girls have confronted ferocious waves of white approval, white supremacy and oversexualization. And historically Black folks have horrifically suffered to meet the expectations of a dominant culture, and the sanction for anything otherwise is suffering within an oppressive culture because a white person may believe that Black folks have to impress, perform and are disturbingly surprised by our intelligence. This is the culmination of white supremacy. It is the minstrel-show complex in which the white community should be cautious of, as it reeks of racism. 

Racism hurts children — Black, brown, white children. Racism is a toxic threat for the health and wholeness of our communities. And if that may be too difficult to realize, perhaps this: stop harassing Black girls. Southern Black girls do not require the approval of white women or white men that hold racially primordial judgements of Black life. May white folks nevermore feel compelled to judge the book cover of southern Black girls enjoying their craft. Before the next praise piece is written for southern Black girls, or before you approach southern Black girls, ask yourself, “why am I impressed?” 

And then don’t. Trust me, there is a dark history in your urge. 

To southern Black girls, when your encounters with white people are uncomfortable, when you do not have the words to recount the twist in the pit of your belly when you encounter racism, trust your community to be a voice for you. Talk about it with your mentors, loved ones or community. Lastly, to southern Black girls, remember your divine presence in this world is not limited to fascinating a dominant culture. May you live free from the curse of the white gaze.

Ash love is a macro social worker, community and culture strategist, activist and writer.