Danice Brown, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Counseling Psychology Graduate Program, Towson University
Black families and communities have the critical task of preparing Black youth and young adults for the realities of racial hostility and inequality perpetuated in interpersonal, institutional, and societal arenas. That task is accomplished largely through racial socialization, a process through which Black families attempt to raise emotionally healthy children, with a positive self-concept and esteem, in environments that may be racially oppressive and hostile. Psychologists have encouraged the use of such strategies among families of color and have advocated for incorporation of this process in therapeutic work with Black families and individuals as a strength-based approach to psychotherapy. While decades of psychological research has documented and detailed the racial socialization process among Black families, the recent deaths of young Black men at the hands of law enforcement officers created a larger forum for a discourse of the ways that families prepare Black youth for racial injustice. However, the current climate has also highlighted the lack of conversation regarding the racial injustice faced by Black girls and women.
As the events surrounding the death of Michael Brown began to unfold, the nation soon learned many of the messages that Black families gave to Black boys about racial barriers and injustice, the automatic negative bias their sons face, and parents’ fears about the safety of their sons when interacting with police. This event seemed to serve as a catalyst for a larger discussion about the racial experiences of Black men and boys in the United States. Thousands have gathered for rallies in honor of Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, and more recently Freddie Gray.
On April 22, 2015 a rally was held in New York City in remembrance of Rekia Boyd, as well as the other Black women and girls who have been killed by police. Unlike the large crowds that gathered to discuss the racial injustice that impacted Black boys, a small crowd of approximately 100 people attended. This may reflect the lack of conversations happening in larger society and possibly within Black communities regarding the racial injustice faced by Black women and girls.
In a recently published study examining the socialization practices of Black parents following the death of Trayvon Martin, Anita Thomas and Sha’kema Blackmon found that approximately 86% of the parents in the study reported that they were more concerned for the safety of boys than girls. Parents felt that Black boys were more likely to be the targets of racism than girls and were more likely to face fear based stereotypes depicting them as criminals and gang members. In contrast, those parents who were worried about girls were more concerned about aspects of their self-esteem, dating options, and the importance of them maintaining independence.
However, with the deaths of Rekia Boyd (age 22), Tanisha Anderson (age 37), Aiyanna Jones (age 7), and several other Black women and girls, one could argue for the necessity of more conversations regarding the importance of preparing Black girls for the ways in which they may face racial inequality and injustice. A recent African American Policy Forum (AAPF) report lead by Kimberle` Williams Crenshaw (Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected) described the role of racial inequality in the lives of Black girls and the complexity of their intersecting racial and gender related oppression. One of the major findings indicated that Black girls were often suspended, expelled, or prosecuted when involved in school conflicts as opposed to other resolutions being sought. Yet, concerns regarding the punitive treatment of Black girls are not often included in discussions of the school to prison pipeline.
The AAPF report recommended the inclusion of Black girls in research, advocacy, and policy discussions addressing racial injustice and inequality. Psychologists may have an important role in working with families, individuals, and communities to understand and address oppression among Black females. Further research is needed exploring the psychological ramifications of the intersecting racial and gender oppression among Black women. Additionally, psychologists may discuss racial socialization practices in therapeutic work with families, highlighting the importance of acknowledging how issues of racial injustice and police brutality impact Black women and men. It is essential to address the unfortunate realities of racial injustice for both Black boys and girls, providing clear communication that the lives of Black women and girls are valued equally with men and boys.