In Parable of the Brown Girl: The Sacred Lives of Girls of Color, ordained minister, speaker, and author, Khristi Lauren Adams shares the stories of girls of color to spotlight their dreams, struggles, and worlds. By centering the lives of Black girls, she raises the reader’s awareness of the forces that girls of color face, as well as the resilience of these girls and their communities.
By employing the narrative form of the parable, also used by Jesus to bring truth and spiritual insight to his hearers, Adams “explores the everyday lives of black girls” (xi). She writes, “racially classified they are black; aesthetically the girls are shades of brown” (xi). Adams aims to disrupt the traditional, often stereotypic views people hold of Black girls.
In seven insightful and accessible chapters, Adams shares the heart of Black girls to help dispel stereotypes, to grant voice to their experiences, and to provide a multidimensional lens to see girls whom the dominant culture often deems invisible, tries to render silent, or dismisses as angry.
Black girls face the harmful expectations of stereotypes early in their lives. For instance, the trope of the Strong Black Woman emerged in response to white patriarchal images meant to demean Black women. Today, this stereotype casts Black women as superhumanly strong inside and out and is a burden foisted upon Black girls at a young age. This stereotype denies the humanity of these young girls.
Adams’s parables also shed light on the “adultification” of young Black girls. Adultification is the tendency to see Black girls as older than they are and thus to treat them like adults instead of the children and teens that they are. Adams exposes how Black girls are hypersexualized, which causes them to be preyed upon and labeled as promiscuous. So many of the hypersexualized misperceptions of Black girls’ bodies emerged from the Jezebel stereotype constructed during slavery to justify the rape of young Black women. This historical perspective helps readers see how the tentacles of patriarchy still attempt to hold Black girls in their grip.
Adams addresses colorism, identity, and so much more. The issues and challenges described by Adams play out in everyday situations for these young girls at school, at home, and in their neighborhoods, increasing their levels of insecurity and diminishing their mental health. And if that weren’t bad enough, these girls also must strive against white beauty standards that attempt to mar the image of God within them.
Yet, Adams shows the resilience and beauty of these young girls of color, especially when given consistent support and understanding. Adams works as an advocate for these girls of color, and her book provides space for their voices to be heard. These Black girls have so much to teach us, and their stories are sacred texts that we must honor.
I highly recommend that any person working in ministries or agencies that provide services to girls of color read Parable of the Brown Girl. This book is also a must-read for anyone advocating for gender equality because it provides insight into the complexity of the struggles many women and girls face, specifically those of color. It will remind every person who aims to dismantle gender-based hierarchies that patriarchy affects girls and women of color differently than it affects white women and girls. Our work against patriarchy is one dimensional unless we truly aim to represent all women and girls and not only white women and girls.
The book will challenge you to ask, “how can we have a movement to advance the equality of women and girls if we don’t know the stories or understand the plight of the very girls who constitute the group on whose behalf we say we advocate?” Indeed, we can never fully advocate for women's equality if we don’t know the diverse stories of women and girls who are hampered by the threats of sexism, racism, classism, colorism, and more.
Like the parables of Jesus, these stories will open your eyes to see and your ears to hear the truths that are needed in our work for gender equality for all girls.
This book review appears in “Womanist Theology: Unraveling the Double Bind of Racism and Sexism,” the Fall 2020 issue of Mutuality magazine. Read the full issue here.