young Black girl in a school classroom
In "Finding Her Voice," authors Faye Belgrave, Angela Ivy Belgrave and Angela Patton aim to help Black girls find the strength and confidence to speak up, be heard and assert themselves. (Getty Images)

New book aims to help Black girls navigate predominantly white spaces, microaggressions

The book, “Finding Her Voice: How Black Girls in White Spaces Can Speak Up and Live Their Truth,” is co-authored by VCU professor Faye Belgrave.

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A new book co-authored by Faye Belgrave, Ph.D., associate dean for equity and community partnerships in the College of Humanities and Sciences, aims to help Black girls find the strength and confidence needed to speak up, be heard and assert themselves in predominantly white spaces.

Finding Her Voice: How Black Girls in White Spaces Can Speak Up and Live Their Truth,” was published Wednesday by New Harbinger Publications and is co-authored by Angela Ivy Belgrave, the daughter of Faye Belgrave and an educator with two decades of experience in the U.S. and abroad; and Angela Patton, CEO of Girls for a Change, a nonprofit youth development organization aimed at empowering Black girls in Central Virginia.

Faye Belgrave, Ph.D.
Faye Belgrave, Ph.D.

Belgrave, a university professor in the Department of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, was co-author of the first textbook in African American psychology and has authored and co-authored numerous papers and books, including “African American Girls: Reframing Perceptions and Changing Experiences” and “African American Boys: Identity, Culture, and Development.” This new book, she said, provides Black girls with activities and exercises that will help them navigate predominantly white schools and other spaces, cultivate self-compassion and self-confidence, and build resilience amid microaggressions and discrimination.

What inspired you and your co-authors to write “Finding Her Voice”?

We’d been in conversations where we recognized the way that Black girls are treated, in schools particularly but also in other predominantly white spaces, and it happened that we had this opportunity to work together.

I had worked with Angela Patton for a number of years in some of our previous work, and I knew of her commitment and passion for advocating on behalf of Black girls. And our conversation would always get to: Well, what can we do to support Black girls who are in these situations? Black boys are in these situations also, but there are some issues that are unique to Black girls.

Then my daughter had been a teacher and doing after-school programs with Black girls in white spaces for many years. She was commenting on the same things that Angela and I were talking about — why is it that Black girls, for example, are seen as loud and unruly when in fact that is certainly not the case? So just having those conversations with two people who had similar interests and a passion to advocate and want to change things for Black girls.

What do you hope Black girls and their parents get from the book?

The message for Black girls really is one of skill development. This is what happens, here are some things that perhaps you can do. The other thing really has to do with feeling good about themselves, and loving and liking who they are, which sometimes can be challenging when you’re in an environment where people don’t look like you.

The message is for girls directly, but also their parents, their teachers and anybody who might work with Black girls. It would be ideal if the girls could read the book with an adult to have that support system. You know, maybe reading circles, maybe have a girls’ group after school.

I go between calling it a book and a workbook because it has a lot of information, but also lots of opportunities for girls to express themselves, as well as prompts in terms of how to develop certain kinds of skills.

“Finding Her Voice: How Black Girls in White Spaces Can Speak Up and Live Their Truth\" book cover
“Finding Her Voice: How Black Girls in White Spaces Can Speak Up and Live Their Truth"

What’s an example of one of those prompts? Could you share an exercise from the book that might help a Black girl speak up, assert herself and feel empowered?

Because microaggressions in and of themselves are so insidious and, at the same time so harmful, many of the examples focus on microaggressions. How do you respond? Or you may choose not to respond — because sometimes it’s very difficult for girls to respond to microaggression, especially when it’s an authority figure.

In the book, activity two [provides] an opportunity to recognize certain kinds of microaggression and then to write out how they might respond.

First, we ask the girls to check a box next to a situation that has happened to them that is likely a microaggression, like someone acts surprised when you tell them you’re in an advanced course. Or a sales clerk follows you around in the store. Or you heard someone say they do not want to attend school in a Black neighborhood.

Then, in the box below, we have them express how they felt. We want them to figure out how they would respond to that microaggression. And we also give them suggestions for how they might respond.

For example, if a sales clerk follows you around in the store, you could leave and not shop there again. You could tell the clerk that you will let them know if you have any questions. We also acknowledge that some of these may be difficult at first, especially if the person is an adult. But we always say: When you practice, you will get better at it. So how do you respond? Write down some of your ideas here. And we almost always encourage them to talk to an adult.

For those who would like to do more to support and empower Black girls in white spaces, is there any advice you would recommend?

My advice would be not to make assumptions and to engage Black girls looking for their strengths not their deficits. Also, adults can educate themselves by engaging in training to learn how to recognize and attenuate microaggressions and implicit bias they have.