Claiming creative space is our ancestral right.

A guest blog from Alexandria C. Onuoha

This blog post briefly discusses Onuoha’s chapter centering Black girls in the context of a larger discussion about traditional educational practices that need to be dismantled.

Black girls don’t follow the rules, and we should follow their lead.

These past few months, I’ve witnessed the heartwarming reactions from Black girls who saw The Little Mermaid. This time around, the Little Mermaid is portrayed by Halle Bailey, an African American singer, songwriter, actress, and performer. The excitement and shock that were painted on their faces made you smile. They couldn’t believe that this Disney Princess looked like them. Actress Halle Bailey inspires many Black girls and women to not be limited by traditional ways of doing, thinking, and being.

Black mermaids
Illustration by: Mirelle Ortega

While doing the Afro-Caribbean workshop I described in my chapter, “Treading on the Sound of Our Own Beat: What We Learn About Education from Black Girls,” in Anti-racist Community Engagement: Principles and Practices, there was a younger girl there who I remember. She looked about 8 and she couldn't get all the moves down. Nevertheless, she was moving and having fun. Her excitement and lack of fear of messing up stood out to me. There were protocols in place for how I structured the workshop, but there wasn’t a rule that said you couldn’t do your own thing if you get stuck, and even if there was, it wouldn’t matter, because she was creating something of her own. 

Since I’ve written the chapter I’ve thought about claiming creative space. Claiming creative space refers to the idea of Black girls in particular using their identities and everyday experiences to be builders of knowledge, culture, and innovation while subverting conventional ideas of creation without fear.

This is the larger conversation that is within and extends beyond education.

I work with both Black women college students and Black girls who are beginning the adolescent period, and they each have their own unique experiences because they interpret their everyday experiences differently. However, the claiming creative space and community building practices remain in both developmental periods. This collaborative process with claiming creative space should be reflected in educational spaces and other social ecologies. I’m the educator and the learner, and so are they. Thus, educational traditions are just that, traditions. No one says you must do it; they are simply passed down. Some traditions expand freedoms, and some are oppressive.

There are really no rules.

Photo by: Phyllis Graber Jensen, Bates College

Scholars have discussed the conceptions of Black girls that are based in racist and sexist beliefs. Black girls are named disobedient, too much, too loud. But I argue that following the rules doesn’t get us anywhere. In reality, Black girls are risk takers, a force to be reckoned with, and passionate about their ideas. So, if they don’t follow the rules, maybe the rules are not worth following. Does a rule restrict us? Does it bring us closer to the truth? Does it increase what we know? Isn’t tension good?

These are questions all educators must ask in their quest for claiming creative space with Black girls which allows for expansive pedagogy.

Read the full experience of “Treading on the Sound of Our Own Beat” by pre-ordering your copy of Anti-Racist Community Engagement today!

Guest author

Alexandria C. Onuoha

Doctoral Student, Applied Developmental Psychology, Suffolk University