In 2021, PHOEBE committed to developing a new self – esteem programme. Strong Black Girls follows the initiative of Suffolk Girls Self-Esteem project, but will be tailored and delivered to Black girls only. Research has shown that self-esteem does not follow the same developmental path for Black and White girls.
The Strong Black Girls project aims to improve self-esteem and empower young Black girls within the Suffolk area. Young Minds, a UK charity supporting young people with mental health issues, has indicated that Black girls are at a higher risk of developing low self-esteem in comparison to other races because of the negative implications of discrimination and racism in the UK.
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem refers to how we see ourselves and value ourselves as people. Black girl’s self-esteem comes from ideas about themselves and their life experiences. Comments regarding hair, body, skin tone have an impact on the self. If these comments are negative, Black girls often develop negative beliefs about themselves. These negative beliefs can lead to low self-esteem in many aspects of life.
What are we doing to help?
OUR PLAN OF ACTION
Here at P.H.O.E.B.E we want to ensure we are providing the most effective materials for young girls to build their self-esteem and to grow into confident young girls.
The project is centred around delivering these self-esteem workshops regularly in local schools and organisations across the Ipswich area for girls aged between 5-19. *Please note, due to COVID, we are currently running these workshops online* Each workshop addresses cultural issues faced by the Black community which, if not celebrated, highlighted, or educated in, can result in detrimental issues which stay embedded in the individual’s subconscious. Topics covered include reframing bias, cultural identity, and celebrating our talents.
Furthermore, being treated differently or unfairly because of race, skin colour or ethnicity can negatively affect mental health. Therefore, we also plan to host discussions around mental health and how to cope with stressful situations.
Black girls and women continue to be overlooked simply because of embracing their hair. Hair is important within the black community. The expression of beauty through hairstyles has been a long-standing signature of Black culture.
From the Afro to hair wraps to braids and weaves, Black women use their hairstyles as a personal expression of who they are and to show the evolution of Black culture over time, an evolution which has brought us to a time when more and more Black women are embracing the natural beauty of their own hair. However, it doesn’t escape controversy. Beauty, and specifically hair, in Black culture has been a sensitive topic of discussion for decades with roots all the way back to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond.
Historically, social injustice, violence, and racial inequality have required many Black women to cover their hair. For instance, hair wraps were used before emancipation as a symbol of oppression/social status and a way for Black women to make their owners less attractive to themselves. When Black women joined the industrial workforce, many felt obligated to follow a more western practice such as straightened, processed, and altered from their natural curl pattern. Even today, black hairstyles, such as dreadlocks, afros and braids are typically limited in some areas, schools or workplaces and may be a reason for exclusion and termination. It seems every hairstyle Black girls and women get is challenged. We can never get a break!
Each girl has her own story or “hair journey” often marked by struggles stemming back to childhood. As a Black woman, I have experienced my own struggles to embrace my hair in its natural state and, to this day, consider it a vital step in accepting and defining my own cultural identity. As a young girl, I was often subjected to teasing because of my big “puffy” hair; this is the same for young girls even today. Here at PHOEBE, we want insecurities about the girl’s natural hair to be removed by celebrating natural hair and other black hairstyles. By engaging in workshops and activities about celebrating our hair and curls, we hope young Black girls can be confident with their appearance which will have positive effects on their self-esteem.
Three Ways to End Hair Discrimination
Knowledge is key.
Don’t touch without consent.
Call it out.
WHAT IS MICROAGGRESSION?
Microaggression is a term used for brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults towards a particular group. Racial microaggressions appear to be a more subtle type of prejudice, but their effects can be damaging to the mental health and wellbeing of Black people.
“You speak well for a Black girl” – sends the message that Black people are generally not as intelligent or as articulate as White people.
“You are so pretty for a black girl” – sends the message that Black girls are not as attractive and desirable as White girls.
“Is that all your real hair” or “Can I touch your hair”
This is a violation of personal space and is also perceived as an entitlement. This is usually done to embarrass a person (because most people are aware Black women experiment with different hairstyles, so it comes across as calling out).
“When I look at you, I don’t see colour” or “There is only one race, the human race”
These comments deny the significance of Black people’s racial and ethnic experiences and history.
How to Address This
Educate ourselves on race and racism, in all of its forms using websites, texts, videos and podcasts.
Active listening to the Black members in the community about their experiences, and the actions which would make them feel welcome, valued and safe.
Commit to being active bystanders when witnessing it.
If you feel comfortable and safe to do so, you can challenge racism by explaining the negative impact someone’s comments or actions could have and ask them to behave differently in the future.
Adultification and Trauma
One prevalent issue is the early adultification of Black girls in which they are forced to grow up faster than they should.
They are seen less as children and do not enjoy the joys of girlhood and innocence. Black girls are seen as grown women despite them being very young. Research consistently shows that adults perceive black girls as less innocent than white girls from as young as 5 years old. Adults were even found to try to change black girls’ behaviour so they are more passive, and had less empathy for them compared to their white peers.
We need to consider cultural burdens and expectations placed on young Black girls’ shoulders. From an early age, the expectation to learn to cook and clean whilst their brothers and fathers get to play and chill. There is the expectation of being a ‘proper girl’ meaning if a girl expresses interest in activities such as rugby or music, they are advised to consider something more appropriate.
Black girls are also labelled ‘loud’, ‘sassy’, ‘rude’ or ‘difficult’. The negative words associated with black women are of biases from their peers and people around them. This can cause harm and trauma that can make it difficult for the girl to transition from girlhood to adulthood. Many young girls are then forced to internalise these traumas of their negative experiences in order to survive and get by. Negative stereotypes of black women and girls, racism, sexism, and poverty all contribute to this adultification bias – leaving traumas that follow them into adulthood.