Black Women’s Lives Matter

Breonna Taylor during a graduation ceremony in Louisville, Ky.Courtesy of Family of Breonna Taylor / AFP - Getty Images

Dr. David J. Childs
Northern Kentucky University

Introduction
In this article we will continue our custom of writing articles that elevate the status of women in our society by exploring women’s history and empowerment. Women’s studies has been very much neglected by past and present teachers, thus we will continue to provide resources for the study of women in middle grades and secondary classrooms. We recently did a five part series commemorating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 1920. You can see each of the articles here:

Part One- A History of Women’s Right to Vote and Other Teaching Resources
Part Two (Women’s Rights)- Intersectionality, Race and Gender: Understanding how Race and Socioeconomics affect Women’s Life Experiences
Part Three (Women’s Rights)- The Womanist Tradition and Domestic Workers in the Early Twentieth Century US
Part Four (Women’s Rights) – Bringing Awareness to Violence Against Native American Women
Part Five (Women’s Rights) – Can we Talk About this in Class: Unpacking Some Complexities of the Me Too Movement

In our series we highlighted the notion of intersectionality. Kimberly Crenshaw (Who coined the term) defines intersectionality as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”  Based on the idea of intersectionality women of color have a different experience in the United States than their White counterparts. In this article we will bring to light the fact that society often overlooks issues related to Black women. We will also provide teaching resources to help educators address the topic in their classrooms. 

Black Women and Girls Matter 
With the mounting deaths of Black people by the hand of police officers, the focus has often primarily been on African American males. As we see more and more Black women are killed by law enforcement, people are recognizing that this is a demographic that is often overlooked. A recent New York Times article from September 2020 points out that since 2015 48 Black women have been killed by law enforcement, which has only resulted in two charges. Furthermore, after witnessing the debate between Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence the world witnessed the disrespect often directed toward women of color, with President Trump calling Ms. Harris a monster in response to the debate. This hearkens back to the time Michelle Obama the then first lady of the United States of America was repeatedly referred to as an ape. These are obvious racial tropes and epitaphs that hearken back to uglier times of Jim Crow and slavery. 

Breonna Taylor’s Life Not Vindicated
With the death of Breonna Taylor and the acquittal of the officers that killed her, there are renewed cries that society does not value the lives of Black women. This has been an all too familiar scenario where the killers of a Black woman get to walk free. There is much controversial surrounding the court proceedings and how the Kentucky Attorney General arrived at the not guilty verdict of the officers. 

Further demonstrating the devaluing of Black women is the urgent crisis of the large number of Black girls that have been missing in the US. The Women’s Media Center in a February 2020 article stated that “an estimated 64,000-75,000 Black women and girls are currently missing in the U.S… The tens of thousands of Black women and girls who are missing include abductees, sex trafficking victims, and runaways. Black women and girls exist at the intersection of racism and sexism, and quite often poverty. These barriers contribute to disparate and poor outcomes in many arenas, including but not limited to health, wealth, housing, education, employment, food security, access to water, and violence.” Only recently has serious attention been given to this issue, and only because of the public outcry and media outlets highlighting it.

Teaching Ideas to Include Black Women’s Studies in Classrooms
There are a number of creative ways to integrate the study of Black women past and present into classroom curriculum. Middle grades and secondary teachers can compile articles that address the issue of missing Black girls in the United States. Educators can also compile resources that highlight the accomplishments and celebrate Black women and girls. Other projects can include exploring the lives of little known Black women in history and assigning novels or books written by women of color. 

Assessments
There are many creative assessments that can be done as well. Students can write poetry or short stories expressing their thoughts on women empowerment. Teachers can have students free-write and journal regularly and also have frequent judgment free discussions in response to the writings. We would suggest using the fishbowl discussion format, for effective meaningful conversations. Another idea is to have students create documentaries that highlight the accomplishments of women of color both past and present. The class can also create plays that celebrate notable Black women in history.

Other Ideas
Teachers can assign individual students or groups to teach lessons that highlight notable Black women or various achievements they have accomplished. Students can write letters to their congress person raising awareness about human trafficking or other issues that impact women. Lastly, students can connect with women of color their age from other states or countries through creating a digital pen pal assignment or connecting via social media or video conferencing technology.

Here is a small list of notable Black women authors whose books that can be used in the classroom: Jacqueline Woodson, Sharon Draper, Mildred Taylor, Zora Neal Hurston, Jesmyn Ward, Virginia Hamilton, Angie Thomas, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.          

Below are some lesson plans and resources that can help teachers engage students in lessons that celebrate women of color.
Nevertheless They Persisted: Black Women & The Fire Within Them (Lesson Plan)
A Dr. Lane Lesson Plan: Teaching Black Women in Film
Let it Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters Lesson Plan
Celebrate Women This Black History Month
Suffrage for Black Women
Women on the March: A Lesson Plan on Imagining the Future of Feminism

Questions for Discussion and Reflection
1. Why do you think issues that affect Black women are often overlooked or ignored?
2. In what ways can you become a greater advocate for women of color?
3. Do you see a lot of progress in the areas of women’s rights? Why or why not?
4. What are creative ways we can use the classroom to empower women of color?
5. Connect the idea of studying women’s empowerment and history to state and national social studies and language arts standards.

3 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading this article! One specific statistic that stood out to me was how only two charges have been given to those who have taken the lives of 48 African American women since the year 2015. It also saddening to hear the racial insensitivities that seem to be even more prevalent and hurtful in recent years. The Breonna Taylor death particularly hits home because it happened just a couple hours away in Louisville, but that does not mean that it matters any more than others who have lost their lives. The bottom line is that all human beings have a right to live and should be able to live out their dreams, whatever that may be. I love the idea of bringing articles and resources in that highlight the accomplishments of women because everything in our world today seems so negative, so this is a way to teach about a topic that is often skipped over, while doing it in an uplifting, encouraging way. Poetry is another great way to integrate women into the curriculum of our schools today!

  2. Dr. Childs,

    Thank you for sharing this article. As a black woman, I can say I have experienced some of the injustices that were mentioned above. As a younger student, I did not see many lessons that celebrated black women. If anything, through my k-12 years, many of my teachers mentioned known black women like Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman. The other black women that I know about was learned through my household and independent learning time for myself. However, this is a topic that everyone should know about. Social Studies should cover all topics. I believe it makes everyone more of a well balanced individual.

    Also, I like your ideas regarding teaching black women studies and some of the assessments. The fishbowl discussion format is my favorite. This allows the teacher to get a better understanding of their individual students and their mindset.

  3. I liked this article. The fact the out of 48 deaths only 2 charges have been brought up is frightening. I think in our classrooms that we as teachers need to be aware enough to make sure we are talking about the black women of history. It is our job to teach our students about these key figures in our history.

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