Author: Denise Purkett
We are barely a full week into 2019 and already it has been exhausting for black girls. It’s hard to not feel anxiety and the weight of black women in general when watching the viral video of a black girl getting assaulted over plastic straws in Mcdonalds, or enduring the 6 part docu-series on surviving R. Kelly’s sick predation towards young girls.
Unfortunately, if you happen to be a black girl, you are already accustomed to rising above the disrespect formed against us on a regular basis. It’s no secret that black women are the most disrespected people in our country. Day to day we fight to protect ourselves while also fighting to protect our families and communities. We speak up for people that a lot of times don’t always speak up for us. Many instances in history prove black women’s strength and perseverance in times of despair.
One of the most magical attributes about black women is that we know how to pull through and make things happen with or without cooperation from other groups. However, having support would help alleviate some of the problems that black girls face everyday. Maybe you have been failing black girls all around you and you’re not even aware of it. Maybe you see your silence as minding your business and trying to keep your job. Maybe you’ve never even been told that you are supposed to protect women but especially black women. Black girls matter, and it is time to start treating them that way. In case you’re unfamiliar with how to do that, here is a guide with 10 tips to help you to stop failing the black girls in your life.
This is probably one of the most effective ways to help a black girl to feel less abandoned by those we fight for the most. It’s actually quite simple. While we do our best to protect ourselves, we could always use the extra reinforcement of protection. One of the issues I personally had with the video of the black girl fighting off the irate white man is that there were two black males also seen in the video that did not protect her. Yes, they helped by breaking up the fight, but the aggressor grabbed her for far too long. The argument would have never even progressed into a physical altercation had one of those young boys stood up for her in the beginning.
It’s not enough to just pull us back from the battles, we need you to also be active in the fight with us. Not only in physical fights, but other battles that we face. This means that you confront and do something about your grown friend having inappropriate relations with minors. This means that you support us by also not giving your money and attention to celebrities, corporations, and other entities of power who choose to disrespect, appropriate, or minimize us. This means that you make sure that we get to our cars safely at night without trying to get our number at the same time. Protect us like you would (or should) protect your grandmother, mother, aunts, and sisters.
2. Affirm Us
Affirmations and recognition can go a long way especially when it’s given to those who hear it the least. Tell us that we’re beautiful without catcalling or being creepy. You don’t have to hotep us to death either, but an occasional “Hey Queen” doesn’t hurt. Praise black girls for the attributes that they naturally have instead of criticizing them about it and then praising the ambiguous girls who purchase those same attributes.
And please don’t only affirm us for our physical attributes. Compliment our brains, the way that we think, the way that we work and the way that we win. Receiving affirmation does wonders to a black girl’s self-esteem and can save them out of a lot of situations that could play on their perception of themselves. The more affirmation, the better. There is nothing that an empowered black girl can’t do. Never miss the opportunity to tell us how amazing we are.
3. Encourage Us
This goes along with affirmation but it’s more so reinforcement. Sometimes we need an extra push to help us keep moving. Encourage us to fulfill our dreams and to do whatever it is that we are trying to pursue. Encourage us to be better. Don’t prey on us during times of weakness and vulnerability. In fact, when you see that we are in a moment of weakness, encourage us to rebuild ourselves with self-love. When we get in places where we seem stuck, encourage us to find alternatives. When you see us in abusive situations, encourage us to find the strength to walk away and offer the support needed to make those steps.
Don’t stop us from wanting to reach our dreams. Don’t get in our way or try to mold us into your own personal adaptation of “traditional relationship goals”. Encourage black girls to be free and to use their autonomy. We were born to be limitless, so encourage us to explore life freely.
4. Allow Us Space For Growth
And since we’re on the subject of autonomy and exploration, make sure that you let the black girls around you know that it is ok for them to grow. Allow us the space to be creative and figure out life just as you are able to do the same without limitations. We don’t have to follow a certain model, we just need the option to be free in our discovery of self. Some people have a hard time letting black girls blossom and evolve because they want to keep them sheltered, not to be confused with protection (sheltering can be selfish but protection is selfless). It’s imperative for black girls to see that they have the room and freedom to become all of who they are meant to be.
We are not monolithic creatures. We have different interests and we are talented in many different areas. Our sexual parts do not define us. Do not let our gender distract you from the fact that we can be good at any and everything.
5. Listen to Us
Listen with the intent to understand not with the intent to respond. Listen to us when we want to tell you about something that happened in our day. Or listen to us when we tell you about our intuition. You may not always understand, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t listen. Ask more questions to help us help you understand where we’re coming from. We say a lot with verbal and nonverbal cues. Listen to them both. We want and need to be heard.
6. Have Open Dialogue With Us
Yes we like to talk, but we also like to listen too… sometimes. Have open conversations with us about all things concerning us so that we can tell you how certain actions make us feel. Discuss with us how you feel as well. I know we can get a rep for yelling and being loud, but that is not always true and if you just tried to communicate with us, most of us will be happy to communicate back. Conversations are the key to upgrades in all parts of life. So be open to converse with us so that we all can learn something new about each other & establish a foundation of trust in our relationships .
7. Represent Us
We’ve all heard by now that representation matters. If you’re in a position of power where you are able to put a black girl on, put us on! Don’t mistake this as doing us a favor, rather this is evening the playing field. In moments where we are not able to speak for ourselves, with our best interest in mind, speak up for us. If you are in position to make laws or changes in general, include us. Don’t leave us out and don’t put us on the back burner. And also, we don’t need watered down representation. We need strong as a giant tree representation.
8. Mentor Us
This is actually for other black women as well who have made it to successful, fulfulling lives and careers but can also apply to the men that are able to mentor without any sexual intention. Once you have accomplished something or succeeded in different areas of life, reach back into your community to help other black girls that could go in the same direction. There are so many black girls that fall to the wayside because of lack of mentorship. Even if you aren’t able to mentor, find an organization or individuals that possibly can. Mentorship is not just for those who are at risk. Mentorship is perfect for those who seem to be on the right track as well. In fact, the right mentor can change the trajectory of any young black girl’s life. When the right influences are not present, take the responsibility to make sure that she finds some.
9. Believe Us The First Time
I think this is pretty simple. Yes, people lie. But if a girl tells you that your beloved Uncle Keith hugged her too tight or if she tells you Cousin Terry makes her uncomfortable, believe her the first time she tells you. Don’t tell her that he didn’t mean anything by it. Take her discomforts seriously the first time around. Do not wait for situations to escalate. This also requires you to do something about it! Don’t just talk to her and not address the situation with your uncle or your aunt or whoever is causing the issue. Start the uncomfortable conversations and let it be known that her feelings will not be ignored.
So many incidents with sexual abuse and other kinds of violence go on for years due to parents and guardians not believing the victim when they first mention that something is wrong. Incidents seem to re-occur because girls learn to believe that no one will believe them if they speak up. So they continue to be violated in silence. Also, suggesting that we change something that we’re doing to avoid unfair strife and infliction is victim blaming. Address the person that’s actually in fault instead of making us feel bad about somebody else’s actions.
10. Be Proactive with Us
Of course having conversations about things like abuse and sexual violence can be uncomfortable to discuss, but it’s necessary that you don’t wait until something bad happens. The information that you give early on could not only help prevent some of these crimes, but also prepare girls to notice the signs and how to handle things if they happen to get into a bad situation. Don't just leave her with your family just because they are family. Don’t just let her go to her friend’s house without first meeting the parents and finding out if there are any other people in the house that your child may be around. If you see signs of abuse without us mentioning it first, be proactive and help instead of waiting for us to come to you.
Work is being done to expose those who discriminate, abuse privilege, and inflict sexual violence against marginalized groups of women. Each effort brings us closer to a harmonious future where women of all races will be treated with the dignity and respect we deserve. There are plenty of other actions that can be taken to prove your supportive stance for black girls, but the steps above serve a great starting point if you’re questioning where to begin.
We do as great of a job as possible taking care of ourselves, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take responsibility to ensuring that the black girls around you are treated like they matter. Remember, great changes start from small efforts. And no effort is too small when it comes to saving the life of a black girl.
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