Olivia Papp ‘23
This past Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, WGRAC sponsored a panel and book signing that took place in the Terrace Rooms, Mather Hall, as well as online. The event, entitled Trying to Speak Woman in Woke Tongues: Black Girlhood and Black Womanhood featured Renita Washington ’22 who introduced each of the panelists, including, Shanta Lee Gander ’01, Dr. Donna-Dale Marcano, Taniqua Huguley ’17, and Michaela Rufus ’23. The speakers reflected on how being a black woman has shaped their lives and other girl’s lives.
The first speaker, Michaela Rufus, prefaced her talk by saying that black womanhood is birthed through collective memory. A long time ago, when Rufus was a child, she felt as though she had no safe place to discuss the adversity which young black girls go through. A few years ago, there were no safe places to grapple with being black and reflect on that with others.
The next speaker was Associate Professor of Philosophy Dr. Donna-Dale Marcano. Marcano reflected upon revolutionary women who both faced and overcame much adversity. She used the example of Pauli Murray, a civil rights activist born in 1910. Murray was a middle-class woman who was raised by her independent, educated aunt. Murray was an underrated figure regarding social justice and civil rights. For example, it has been found Murray was jailed for not sitting in the back of the bus ten years before Rosa Parks. Murray wrote to President Roosevelt many times to fight for and uplift racial equality. She graduated from Howard University Law School. Marcano made a point to address how, during Murray’s time, black women were dependent upon black men when fighting for civil rights. It was a common notion that black men must take precedence over black women. In the early 1900s, black women were subject to working different divisions of labor with no protections while black men were working better jobs. Even with these setbacks, Murray managed to live a life filled with accomplishments.
Another speaker was Taniqua Huguley ’17, who is the founder of an organization called Black Girls Achieve. This organization aims to empower Black girls around the world. Huguley used her time to speak profoundly about different stories highlighting the struggles of black women, and created a safe space for black women and young girls to tell their stories. The first story she shared was about a twelve-year-old black girl who was raped. When she reported the crimes, the judges simply did nothing and the perpetrator was released. The young girl acted out and then had to go to Saint Jude’s Hospital due to her trauma. However, the experience was healing and helped her get back on the right path. She was able to go to nursing school. However, after her seventeenth birthday, the girl was found dead with stab wounds. As a result, she was stripped of her accolades and failed by the system.
Another story Huguley told was about a black girl who struggled with her own identity, as she attended a white private school in the Upper East Side. Huguley said the girl identified more with white girls than black girls. This young girl was always reprimanded because of how tight her pants were and how her body looked in certain clothes. Therefore, the girl needed to change into sweatpants and change her outfits to conform to society’s wants rather than her own. Her parents advised her to stop talking and fighting against the teachers who wanted her to change and instead focus on her education. This is an example of this girl’s voice and authenticity being suppressed. Additionally, in school, her classmates and teachers constantly asked about her hair and the Black Lives Black Matter movement, expecting and assuming her to be an expert due to her skin color.
The last story which Huguley shared was about a girl from Hartford. When asking the girl what she was passionate about, the girl said she was interested in housing and jobs. The girl’s mom lost her job and they were both at a shelter for some time. However, they needed to leave the shelter once the employees began harassing the daughter. At this time, the mother and daughter had nowhere left to go. The daughter changed her appearance. She felt her body was the reason why men assaulted her. To fix the situation, she began to wear baggy clothes. As a result, girls her own age made fun of her for not dressing in clothes that hugged her shape. Huguley mentions that these three stories each depict the ways in which black girls have internalized stereotypes. These stories portray how black girls believe bad things that happen are their fault, when in fact the blame falls on society.
Gander ’01 graduated with an undergraduate degree in Women, Gender, and Sexuality from Trinity College. She then earned an MBA from the University of Hartford. Gander is a creative soul who writes prose, poetry, and journalism. She has a multi-faceted professional life including leadership and community engagement. She spoke about the things that shape all of us. She asks the audience what we are ashamed of in terms of our identity. She spoke on the difficulties and struggles of navigating a culture where society does not see black women. Throughout her life, was waiting upon black women to be featured in Hollywood. Her entire life, she asked herself, “where are all the black people, and why are they unseen?” reflected upon this sense of invisibility amongst the black women as she grew up in Hartford. She spent her years growing up ready and excited to get out and break free from her childhood.
Overall, each panelist was brilliant and spoke eloquently about difficult topics in today’s society. The panelists made the audience reflect on what work has been done in terms of racial equality while also highlighting the work that still needs to be done.