In Search for a Full Vision: Writing Representations of African American Adolescent Girls
Muhammad, Gholnecsar E.
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Self-exploration and self-representation are key developmental tasks during adolescence yet, these are further complicated for African American adolescent girls who are positioned in a society that has given them mixed and often times, distorted images associated with Black girlhood (Muhammad, 2012). While there is a rich and lengthy literary history of African American women writing to represent their lives (Foster, 1993; Royster, 2000; Wall, 2005), the current research landscape is saturated with how others have represented African American girls or research focused on pathologies. These research literatures are typically written absent of the girls’ voices and do not offer enough insight into how African American adolescent girls represent themselves. Instead, they paint an incomplete, unclear picture connected to their selfhood and into representing who they are. To respond to this incomplete picture of African American girls, this study examined how they represented themselves within their writings. Taking a historical orientation to a case study methodology (Merriam, 1998; Yin, 2009), African American women’s writings and the literacy enactments found in nineteenth century African American literary societies were examined to frame a four-week literacy collaborative designed to nurture the identities and literacies of eight African American adolescent girls. The following research questions guided the inquiry: 1) How do African American adolescent girls represent themselves through their writings? 2) Which factors within a literacy collaborative contribute to representations within their writings? Findings show that the girls wrote across similar platforms of African American women historically which included writing to represent self, to resist or counter ascribed representations and writing toward social change (Peterson, 1995; Royster, 2000). The girls wrote multiple and complex representations which included ethnic, gender, intellectual, kinship, sexual, individual and community representations. The primary contextual factors of the literacy collaborative that contributed to their self-representations included the use of mentor text, having the freedom to write openly and without apology, and uninterrupted writing time. The findings suggest the girls’ writings served as hybrid spaces for the girls to explore, make sense of, and express different manifestations of self.