False Conciousness and Black Childhood
Promiscuous, uneducated, angry, toxic. These are illustrations of prevalent stereotypes of Black girls in America that corroborate the justifications of their quotidian maltreatment. In this paper, I seek to underscore the concept of false consciousness in perceptions of Black girlhood and how it perpetuates the conjugated oppression of Black girls within the spheres of three excerpts: “A Girl’s Story” by Toni Cade Bambara, “Black Girls and Representative Citizenship” and “Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century” by Nazera Sadiq Wright. False consciousness in this paper will be contextualised to ” the holding of false beliefs” of a particular group “which thereby contributes to the disadvantaged position of that group” (Jost 397). This means that Black girls face detrimental consequences as a result of false vices that the domineering patriarchal systems and predominantly white society attach to them. Further, conjugated oppression in this context will refer to the different forms of structural or direct violence that Black girls face resulting from their intersectionality of being girls and Black in a domineering male and White society.
To begin with, the false consciousness of Black Girls being sexual objects has been naturalized and internalized leading to their treatment as more sexually mature than they actually are. Consequently, Black girls face the distressing misfortune of being sexually harassed or being assumed as being promiscuous. “A Girl’s Story” draws attention to this specific issue through Rae Ann, a Black girl who encounters menstruation for the first time. Rae Ann´s grandmother and brother almost immediately allude her menstruation to an abortion and condemn her for supposedly indulging in sexual activity with a “filthy man”(Bambara 160). It is important to note that Rae Ann´s family members´ reactions are accurate projections of their views on the sexualization of Black girls. Considering that Rae Ann is oblivious of her bodily changes, it is unfair to even suggest that she is promiscuous. Rae Ann is left powerless in an uncomfortable space and she suffers being verbally abused and humiliated by both her grandmother and brother. Additionally, the possibility that Rae Anne mentions of her grandmother slapping her highlights the possible direct violence that she could be subjected to based on a false assumption that she is sexually mature and active. In as much as Rae Ann´s grandmother finally realizes that Rae Ann was menstruating, a disturbing picture is painted of these naturalized false consciousness is painted.
Concurrently, the Black girl has a negatively connotated identity that is forced upon them hence their disquietness; she is silenced and abused with little or no agency to defend herself. Rae Ann´s pain expressed through tears is interpreted in a negative light that dismisses her feelings as a Black girl. Similarly, in “Black Girls and Representative Citizenship”, the motif of girls as sexual objects is accentuated when Floyd asserts conduct guidelines appearing to “leave little space for girls to develop their imaginations or to participate in precocious or playful activity” (Wright 101). As the statement is specifically referring to the conduct of Black girls, it implies that Black girls are immoral and their imaginations if not occupied, indulge in the similar immoral thoughts. Whereas in some cases Black girls might have “gained premature knowledge when they faced hardships that forced them to think and act as adults” (Wright 12), it still remains unjustifiable to sexually objectify or harass Black girls or to contribute to their abuse by acting on false consciousness.
Further, the false assumption and belief that girls going into womanhood should achieve a certain conduct that makes them more fit for the domestic sphere is oppressive. This false consciousness essentially strips Black girls of their identity and deduces that they should fit into one idealized box of being the best mothers or wives to their families, the ultimate measure of their success. As a consequence of this idealism, Black girls are expected to conform guidelines curated by men hence making them have minimum control over their lives. “Black Girls and Representative Citizenship” exemplifies this by discussing how the conduct rhetoric “assumed a patriarchal agenda in which Black figures acquired education and learned to care for others” (Wright 92). This shows how the Black girl is used and expected to sacrifice for the care of other when others did not necessarily retaliate the favour. As if not unfair enough, ” rather than use their education to prepare for uplift work in the public sphere, Black girls were to defer to male leadership and return to the domestic sphere. They were to follow rules of duty and beauty that prepared them for their future roles as wife and mother” (Wright 92).
The latter is a case of structural violence towards Black girls whereby the systems within the social fields they are part of discourage them from using their cultural capital through education to gain other capitals such as economic capital to enrich their lives. As the false consciousness of Black girls´ lower position in their societies´ hierarchies is normalized, little room is left for girls who want to break the status quo; their dreams and academic achievements are dismissed. A portrayal of this lack of agency in terms of the Black girl´s individuality is seen in the same text when Grace, a well-qualified and educated woman still teaches books written by male figures and maintains her role as a wife. As she lives in a patriarchal-favoring society, her achievements are attributed to her being married rather than her being educated. A more disturbing justification of the assumed position of Black girls in society is one from “Black Girls and Representative Citizenship” that claims that occupation of the girls in the domestic sphere is to discourage them against “idleness, flirting, dancing, vindictiveness, backbiting, gossip, and slangy speech” (Wright 95) hence further normalizing the problematic assumption of Black girls´ status.
Moreover, the Black girl is charged with the burden of being a representative of a whole race hence having to conduct themselves in predetermines mannerisms. Consequently, the Black girls suffers being alienated from their species essence and suffer an entfremdung or alienation from themselves and what interests them, a psychological from of oppression. Likewise, “Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century”, brings into prominence the reliance on Black girls as “emblems of home and family” (Wright 2) and equally just as in the former text, dismisses the academic achievements of Black girls by affirming that ” no matter how strong, how ambitious, how determined, how educated a Black girl might become, she would face nearly insurmountable obstacles when she left her family home to make her way in the world” (Wright 8). This further shows how Black girls are not given the chance to explore their interests or achievements in the name of pursing their roles as wives and mothers. As Black girls are “conditioned to survive in a hostile, oppressive society and become socialized into womanhood as early as seven or eight years old” (Wright 4), they are blinded from the conjugated oppression that they are subjected to hence a continuum of the structural violence against them.
In conclusion, it could be denoted from the chosen texts that the false consciousness on Black girls in America plays a role in perpetuating the structural functionalism of societies that these Black girls come from. This means that in order to maintain the harmony of the patriarchal and racist institutions they come from, Black girls are expected to wear masks and play their assigned roles as wives and mothers in the system without any form of resistance. Any forms of resistance from Black girls is perceived negatively and this is illustrated in “Black Girls and Representative Citizenship” when Floyd describes “unruly” Black girls as the “worst girls in the world” (Wright 104) and unruly Black boys as “made for better things” (Wright 104).
A comparison between resistance or “unruliness” between Black boys and Black girls within the same text highlights double standards in which the two genders are held and even further, continue to show the conjugated oppression of Black girls. Additionally, in “Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century”, Black girls´ “refusal to conform and acquiesce to dominant societal rules that dictate compliant behaviour sometimes leads to their isolation, loneliness, and despair” (Wright 12) hence not only alienating them from their essence species but also alienating them form their own communities. In essence, false consciousness on perceptions of Black girlhood have contributed immensely to the quotidian conjugated oppression of Black girls and unless the continuum of these false assumptions is disentangled from the American society way of life, the Black girl will always have to face violence targeted towards her race and gender.
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