A Qualitative Study of Black College Women’s Experiences of Misogynoir and Anti-Racism with High School Educators
1. Critical Race Feminism and Black Girls’ Education
2. The Impact of Teacher Misogynoir on Black Girls’ Schooling Experiences
3. Moving towards Anti-Racist Educational Praxis
4. Developing Black Girls’ Critical Ways of Knowing
5. Building a Politicized Ethic of Care among High School Teachers
6. Dismantling School Structures That Harm Black Girls
7. The Current Study
8.3. Interview Protocol
8.4. The Research Team
8.5. Coding Analysis Approach
10. Discriminatory Teacher Practices
10.1. Policing Physical Appearance and Language or Tone (n = 25, 50%)
I was on the debate team in high school, and wearing suits on the debate team was key. People judge you like, “Is she wearing a mismatched outfit from Forever 21? Or do her parents have money? Is that a tailored suit?” So I had on my best suit. I remember my debate teacher was like, “You look like a whore in that.” The whole team heard it. Some people ignored it, but one of the girls who I was closer with was like, “Why would you say that? That’s such a nice suit.” My debate team coach was like, “Well, it’s just so tight. You’re showing your butt.” First of all, he was like 50. Why is he looking at me? This is still one of those things where I’m like, “I can’t believe I let that man talk to me like that.”
I was the only Black girl in my school, which made it harder for me to accept my body because I didn’t look like my friends when I was wearing exactly what they were wearing. I could be wearing the same skinny jeans as my friends, but teachers would have a problem with it or I would get called into the office. The idea of modesty was whipped on us. Like I was being immodest because I have this shape and I wore something that didn’t hide it. I grew up feeling like my body was something to hide. In school, it would be a moral shame, like, “How dare you show your curves!”
10.2. Expecting Girls to Be Exceptional (n = 19, 40%)
I think teachers acknowledged me as an exception. As an exception, they were way more prone to remember my name, because I was Black and I was smart. They interacted with me differently than they would interact with other Black people at school. And I don’t know how this was, but I guess teachers could tell by looking at me. They were like, “She’s not African American.” So our initial interactions were just different.
It’s been a lot of pressure. There’s been a lot of pressure and I put a lot of pressure on myself because I strive for perfection always, which is an issue because I know you can’t be perfect and I guess I don’t want to disappoint and I feel like this is the one thing that I have control over and so I want to make sure I’m controlling it in all areas. I haven’t dealt with it and I probably should, yeah. None of my friends have dealt with it really either, so we’re all just kind of just like self-therapy, we just talk and…yeah, it’s a problem.
10.3. Tokenizing Girls in the Classroom (n = 19, 40%)
My history classes in high school were difficult because I would be one of maybe three to five Black students in classes of like 30 students. Whenever they would talk about slavery or the Civil War, students would always come to one of the Black students and ask us about it. Like we’re the entire Black race! One of my teachers was like, “I’d like to hear from the Africans’ point of view.” I was like, “I am African American, and I don’t know how to speak for my entire race to this class of 30 students when I don’t even know what slavery was like. I’m learning about it just like everyone else.” It was annoying to be feel like I needed to say what’s right and what’s wrong and what’s racist and what’s not. But it was also like, “The teacher’s asking me a question, so what am I supposed to do?”
I still think about my teacher who told me, “You’re a Black girl from the city. They don’t have a lot of Black girls from the city, so they need you for their diversity thing.” I try not to think about it as much—try not to let it get to me—but it can be very overwhelming.
10.4. Lacking Racial Diversity in Curriculum (n = 7, 15%)
They shied away from the topic. The only time I’d say…we had an African Day. We would have different cultural things for that event. But it wasn’t really talked about. In AP U.S. history, there would be a small part…my teacher was emphasizing it more than they [the school] would have him. But it was still a pretty small part. What is it called? The Civil Rights movement…he emphasized that a little bit more than past history teachers.
I would just say—it was always—as a Black girl in the real world, my teachers told me to make sure that I know how to speak properly. Sometimes I would get frustrated because these big words that are mainly for people who aren’t from the inner city’s vocabulary—aren’t in mine. It just doesn’t naturally come to me and I feel like I can’t speak like them or I’m not on their level and it’s gonna keep me back because I can’t speak in that form.
10.5. Gatekeeping Grades and Opportunities (n = 7, 15%)
I tried out for the cheer team my freshman year, and every girl looked the same. They were around the same height and had super light hair. I’m pretty tall, so I was towering above most of the girls. The try outs were over a couple of days, and I was by myself most of the time. I got a pretty good score, but I flipped to the back page and it was like, “We don’t have a spot for you on the team.” But when school started, there were girls on the team who didn’t come to try outs. I emailed the coach and even though we had been emailing before, she didn’t reply anymore. I didn’t get involved in any other sports in high school because I felt like I was going to have the same experience all over again.
She was the only teacher available, so, it was either drop the class or stay. Once, she took 30 points off my paper because I stapled it twice. Everybody else had feedback on their paper and I asked her, “Oh, Miss Cooper, why isn’t there any writing on my paper?” I wanted feedback like everybody else. She looked through my paper for two seconds and said, “Your paper is stapled twice.” I was like, “Is that really worth a 30 point deduction?” She caused me to get my first C ever. My parents called the school and the school was like, “Well, she’s the teacher. We can’t really do anything about it.”
11. Anti-Racist Teacher Practices
11.1. Communicating High Expectations and Recognizing Potential (n = 13, 6%)
There were two physics awards and this guy, Chandler, was like a genius. We all knew it, so he won the physics award. I’m sitting there like, “Yeah, they’re not going to call me.” And then he called my name and I’m walking up there and you see all the little science nerd guys…the ones who went to college for engineering. And they’re all just staring. But at the end of the day, I didn’t think I deserved it. I thought that, once again, I was the one Black girl. Like I said, I was in his office every day. I used to stay after class with him…I used to email him…I was in there. So I know they know I’m a good person and they know that I work hard; but at the end of the day, I don’t think I deserved that.
I was really good at school. I was always top of my class and I tried to get promoted with teachers and the principals and everything like that. So with like, being a Black woman, or being a Black girl—they were just like—you have to keep going…you have to keep going. You gotta make it out…so they set the precedent for how I got here. Because I always loved school and liked learning. I was really shy and quiet and always had my head in a book—I was always in the corner reading a book somewhere. Because from a very early age, I knew that to get out of my situation…school was the best option.
11.2. Challenging Racial Discrimination in the Moment (n = 4, 8%)
In the southwest part of the state…like in the mountains…it’s very racist. I was on the basketball team and we played against this mostly White team. We had conflicts between us and them and we weren’t treated very nicely and it was all because we’re Black. We just kind of removed ourselves from the situation, but there wasn’t really much we could do. Finally, we talked with our coach and they dealt with it. We didn’t play against that school for a few years until things got sorted out.
After we got all the paperwork done and ran it by the club administrator, we had to go to the principal so he knows what clubs we have. We had this meeting with him and he was reading all the paperwork because the principal has to sign off to make it a club. He was talking to us about our goals with the club, and I remember he told me and my friend, “I don’t think the students in this high school are ready for a BSU.” We felt really invalidated. But we still kept going to make it work because our [teacher] sponsor was like, “Don’t give up, we need this.” It took from September to March to get him to sign it.
11.3. Instilling Racial and Cultural Pride through Curriculum (n = 4, 8%)
My calculus teacher and my psychology teacher in high school were the ones who really had an impact on me as far as letting me know who I was culturally. They were definitely like, “You’re part of the Black community, and this is the history behind it. So this is what you have—you have to carry that torch.” I never really understood that until I got to college, and I was like, “Wow.” I remember when I came back and talked to them about it, they were like, “We couldn’t really force you to understand. Your mind was going to open when it was going to open. But we just set the door there.”
She did the kings and queens thing of highlighting our abilities and talents. I still talk to that teacher to this day and she’s still doing the same thing—uplifting Black girls at that school and in the community and making them feel beautiful. I hold onto those people. It might not be every day, but I know that if I reach out to them, they’re gonna be there.
12.1. The Impact of Teacher Misogynoir on Black Girls’ Schooling Experiences
12.2. Situating Black Girls as Knowers and Change Agents
12.3. Demonstrating a Politicized Ethic of Care among High School Educators
14. Implications for Scholarly and Educational Praxis
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
- What words or characteristics would you use to describe yourself as a Black woman?
- I’d like you to tell me a story about an important positive experience in your life that related to your identity as a Black girl.
- How did this experience affect you? Make you feel?
- Why does this experience stand out to you?
- I’d like you to tell me a story about an important experience in your life that presented a challenge related to your identity as a Black girl.
- How did this experience affect you? Make you feel?
- How did you make decisions on how to deal with or resolve this challenge?
- During K–12, did you receive messages about being a Black girl from people at school? This includes peers, teachers, or school figures.
- What did you think about these messages?
- Do you recall receiving any messages that you disagreed with?
- Body shape or body image
- Colorism—comments about skin tone
- Correct ways to conduct yourself as a girl/woman
- What to do if you encounter race or gender discrimination
- How to interact in interracial friendships or relationships
- Gendered expectations—role in the family as a girl/woman
- How to respond to sexual harassment/assault (including cat-calling)
- Future educational or occupational goals
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|Pseudonym||Class Year||Ethnicity||Social Class||Hometown||HS Racial Composition|
|Akira *||2nd||African American||Working Class||Urban||61%–80%|
|Alexa *||3rd||African American||Middle Class||Urban||<20%|
|Aliyah||3rd||African American||Middle Class||Urban||81%–100%|
|Alyssa *||3rd||African American||Middle Class||Urban||81%–100%|
|Amaya *||2nd||African American||Middle Class||Urban||61%–80%|
|Amber *||2nd||Nigerian||Middle Class||Suburban||<20%|
|Angel||4th||African American||Working Class||Small town||81%–100%|
|Aniyah||2nd||African American||Middle Class||Urban||81%–100%|
|Brianna||2nd||West Guinea||Working Class||Small town||<20%|
|Brie||3rd||African American||Middle Class||Suburban||<20%|
|Brionna *,+||1st||Sudanese||Middle Class||Suburban||<20%|
|Candice||2nd||Nigerian||Middle Class||Small town||<20%|
|Chloe *||3rd||African American||Working Class||Urban||81%–100%|
|Danielle *||1st||Somali||Middle Class||Suburban||41%–60%|
|Dashawna *||1st||Cameroonian||Middle Class||Suburban||<20%|
|Desiree +||4th||Liberian||Middle Class||Suburban||<20%|
|Destiny *||3rd||Rwandan||Upper Class||Suburban||41%–60%|
|Ebony +||1st||Lebanon||Middle Class||Suburban||41%–60%|
|Gabrielle *||5th||African American||Middle Class||Urban||81%–100%|
|Hailey *||1st||African American||Working Class||Urban||81%–100%|
|Hannah *||3rd||African American||Middle Class||Urban||<20%|
|Imani||4th||African American||Middle Class||Urban||81%–100%|
|Indigo *||2nd||African American||Middle Class||Suburban||<20%|
|Isis||4th||African American||Working Class||Urban||81%–100%|
|Jayla||3rd||African American||Upper Class||Suburban||<20%|
|Jaleesa *||4th||African American||Middle Class||Suburban||21%–60%|
|Jordan +||4th||African American||Upper Class||Suburban||21%–60%|
|Katrina *||2nd||African American||Middle Class||Suburban||61%–80%|
|Kayla||4th||African American||Middle Class||Urban||81%–100%|
|Laila||3rd||African American||Middle Class||Urban||81%–100%|
|Lakeisha *||3rd||Nigerian||Working Class||Suburban||61%–80%|
|Makayla||5th||African American||Middle Class||Urban||81%–100%|
|Noelle *||2nd||Ethiopian||Middle Class||Suburban||<20%|
|Taylor||2nd||African American||Working Class||Suburban||61%–80%|
|Tiana *||2nd||African American||Working Class||Suburban||<20%|
|Trinity||1st||African American||Middle Class||Small town||<20%|
|Discriminatory Teacher Practices|
|Policing physical appearance and language/tone|
(n = 25, 50%)
Refers to instances when teachers made comments or disciplined their physical appearance or behavioral mannerisms
|“There’s the normal stuff like cross your legs when you sit. Keep your legs closed. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t be so loud. When it comes to dress code, make sure to cover yourself, wear stuff below the knees. Shoulders were sexy apparently, because nobody could have their shoulders out. Cover your bra straps. I feel like when it comes to being lady-like, they wanted me to water myself down.” (Chloe, 3rd year, African American)|
|Expecting girls to be exceptional|
(n = 19, 38%)
Refers to instances when teachers treated the women as though they were inherently different from other Black students
|“I felt like a token throughout high school, and it would always give others the excuse to make these jokes. Am I here because y’all like me? Or am I here because y’all feel like I’m an exception? They would always say stuff that would make it like, “Oh, but you’re one of the other Black people.” And it’s like, “What other Black people?”(Taylor, 2nd year, Nigerian)|
|Tokenizing girls in the classroom|
(n = 19, 38%)
Refers to instances when teachers singled them out in class (i.e., expected them to speak for “Black people”)
|“To this day, I’ve noticed that if I’m unsure of an answer, I tend to not raise my hand and speak up compared to somebody else who might be unsure. Now I’ve realized that it’s because I don’t want to say something wrong. I was always the only Black person in the class and I feel like a representative, or they put that pressure on you.” (Tiana, 2nd year, Ethiopian)|
|Erasing racial diversity in curriculum|
(n = 7, 14%)
Refers to instances when the women perceived that Black history was neglected in course content
|“It was mostly something that I was interested in reading about. I noticed myself doing research papers in high school about things that had to do with race, but I don’t really think I was given that much in school.” (Lakeisha, 3rd year, Nigerian)|
|Gatekeeping grades and opportunities|
(n = 7, 14%)
Refers to instances when teachers gave out unfair grades or denied the women an opportunity without cause
|“I asked my teacher, “Why isn’t there any writings on my paper?” I wanted feedback and everybody else had feedback. She looked through my paper for two seconds and said, “Your paper is stapled twice.” I was just like, “Is that really a 30 point deduction though?” She caused me to get my first C ever in a grade in a class. My parents called the school; the school was like, “Well, she’s the teacher. We can’t really do anything about it.” (Danielle, 1st year, Somalian American)|
|Anti-Racist Teacher Practices|
|Communicating high expectations and recognizing potential|
(n = 13, 6%)
Refers to instances when teachers provided encouragement around academic or personal goals and helped the women achieve those goals
|“His name was Doctor E and he was an angel. He encouraged me to apply to Brown when I was applying to colleges. He told me, “No, apply to the Ivies—try. You don’t have to stay here, you can do it.” He really believed in me even though physics didn’t come easy. He’s one of the ones who made me think I really had a chance.” (Indigo, 2nd year, African American)|
|Challenging discrimination in the moment|
(n = 4, 8%)
Refers to instances when teachers called out students or other teachers/administrators for racial discrimination
|“There was this one time that this White girl in my class got a question right and said, “Well Katrina can just have my bonus points.” And my teacher was like, “You need them more than she does.” Everyone just laughed. Like the other students in the class didn’t always know that I was smart, but my teachers saw my grades so they knew.” (Katrina, 2nd year, African American)|
|Instilling racial and cultural pride|
(n = 4, 8%)
Refers to instances when teachers demonstrated a commitment to including racially diverse materials in the curriculum and helped the women begin to understand systems of power
|“At first, I thought Black women were supposed to be on the sidelines of things, or if they weren’t on the sidelines, then they were just going to be there but not heard. We had to read Hidden Figures for science class and I really like that book because it showed all these amazing things that had to happen for something that this country praises [walking on the moon]. But you didn’t actually give any credit because it’s—not only were they women—but they were Black women, so it’s like they were just put in a lower class amongst our already secondary class.” (Amaya, 2nd year, African American)|
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Leath, S.; Ware, N.; Seward, M.D.; McCoy, W.N.; Ball, P.; Pfister, T.A. A Qualitative Study of Black College Women’s Experiences of Misogynoir and Anti-Racism with High School Educators. Soc. Sci. 2021, 10, 29. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10010029
Leath S, Ware N, Seward MD, McCoy WN, Ball P, Pfister TA. A Qualitative Study of Black College Women’s Experiences of Misogynoir and Anti-Racism with High School Educators. Social Sciences. 2021; 10(1):29. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10010029Chicago/Turabian Style
Leath, Seanna, Noelle Ware, Miray D. Seward, Whitney N. McCoy, Paris Ball, and Theresa A. Pfister. 2021. "A Qualitative Study of Black College Women’s Experiences of Misogynoir and Anti-Racism with High School Educators" Social Sciences 10, no. 1: 29. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10010029