On May 16, 2010, seven-year-old Aiyana Jones was killed in her bed by a Detroit police officer. On March 13, 2020, twenty-six-year-old Breonna Taylor was killed in her bed by a Louisville police officer. There has been no justice for either of them. For so many years, America has been charged for the murder, abuse, and mistreatment of Black bodies. In the list of countless victims, the names of Black women and girls are often lost and forgotten. Why do we act like Black women and girls are so insignificant? Does this teach other girls that no one truly cares for them? Does this show them how the world views them?
Societal expectations for little girls pressure them into thinking they are not worthy of love unless they meet certain conditions. Rather than countering this culture and giving little Black girls the true gospel that God created them in his image and liberates them in Jesus, the church tends to double down on the same stereotypes and criticisms. But egalitarian Christians can change this by supporting little Black girls and proclaiming the good news of God’s love and freedom for them.
Making Black Girls Forgettable
In 2005, Black American filmmaker Kiri Davis released a seven-minute documentary called A Girl Like Me. In this documentary, she interviews several Black girls of varying complexions about the difficulties they have faced being Black, such as criticisms of their hair and skin. She also recreates the famous doll experiment originally performed by Mamie and Kenneth Clark for the 1954 US Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. In Davis’s test, fifteen out of twenty-one children chose the white doll over the Black doll. Like the Clarks’ test, these children saw the darker doll as “bad” while the white doll was “good.” What is even more heartbreaking is that these children recognized that the darker doll resembled themselves.
This doll experiment shows the effects of society’s standards placed on Black girls and how they lead to an inner battle between self-love and self-hatred. This battle is not only against stereotypes and negative assumptions formed by white people and other non-Black people of color but also within the Black community. The lighter-skinned girl is always preferred over the darker-skinned girl.
Harmful and unrealistic beauty standards are not only a matter of skin color either, and these standards are forced upon girls long before they understand what’s happening. Mothers of little Black girls decide if their daughter’s hair is too unmanageable and whether they should straighten it or not. This decision will not come without a price. That little Black girl will be told in many ways that her hair is not beautiful enough—her hair will either be too kinky or too straight. If she has a perm, her blackness might be questioned, but if her hair is natural, she will be compared to an animal. It’s a no-win situation.
Black girls are taught that their beauty is tied to their worth, and they are also never given the option to be sensitive or emotional. The world decides whether they are desirable or not. Black girls are labeled “ghetto” when they are creative, “loud” when they are passionate, and “difficult” when they stand up for themselves and others. They are ridiculed for the way they speak and use African American vernacular, but if they don’t use it, they risk being judged by the Black community for sounding “too white.” People do not take the time to learn Black girls’ names or how to pronounce them correctly. No matter the style, their hair is petted as if they are animals. Black girls are treated as a spectacle at every turn.
Good News for Little Black Girls
The church is not exempt from being affected by the same detrimental stereotypes about Black girls. While the church ought to be an accepting place for all people, especially for those who are marginalized by the world, I have faced discrimination within my own church community based on the same stereotypes Black girls learn as they grow up. The microaggressions I have experienced have left me feeling hurt and abandoned by the church. I have been criticized for the natural state of my hair, and told it is more preferred pulled back or straightened. I have been asked to be silent and challenged to forgive before the aggressor is challenged to confront their prejudices. In my passion for change, I have been labeled angry and told to avoid making my own agenda. I could tell countless stories of Black voices being silenced.
This is not the gospel. The gospel does not require us to fit the expectations of humans but to look like Christ. This is good news for little Black girls, that the God of all creation made no mistake in creating their different shades of brown or the texture of their hair. Christians should remember that the world is cruel enough, so the church should be loving. The church should be aware of everything that God’s children face, especially non-white children.
The gospel should not be used to enslave the minds of little girls. It should not teach little girls that they deserve to be forgotten or expected to meet these unrealistic and conflicting standards. The gospel shows us that the church ought to be a safe place for them. The gospel should liberate them to live in the fullness of God’s love. We are commanded by Christ to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34–35). The church has a responsibility to care for the minds and bodies of little Black and brown girls. The church should not be silent against the atrocities that kill and abuse them. It should be clear that they are protected and loved. If we claim to love God, we must also love others (1 John 4:20–21).
Remember Little Black Girls
As we pray for future generations, remember the little Black girl. She needs you to see her struggles and to support her and to advocate for her. She has dreams and a calling from God too. Remember her when you are fighting for women’s place in the church. That mission includes her and the girls and women that look like her. Remember her when you read the story of the children coming to Christ (Matt. 19:14). Pray for her as she grows and faces all that the world will throw at her. Remember that she is watching what you do, listening to what you say.
Remember that little Black girl is a child of God. She will learn quickly that the white, blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus is not for her; however, the church must teach her that the brown Palestinian Jesus is. He will free her from the standards of the world. She will need to know that her identity is in Christ, but her ethnicity is no mistake. Her culture should be embraced, not criticized. She will need more than sympathy; she will need allies and advocates. She will need to know that our God is one of justice. When God calls her into ministry, she will need a platform or pulpit. She should never be silenced; she should be heard and believed. This will teach her that God hears her. She should never be judged for her upbringing or education. She should be loved and cared for as a child of God.
And lastly, say her name. Always say her name.
This article appears in “Womanist Theology: Unraveling the Double Bind of Racism and Sexism,” the Fall 2020 issue of Mutuality magazine. Read the full issue here.