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Unapologetically Black: Authenticity as Black Resistance

“When Black people resist society’s competing expectations and allow themselves to be authentically, unapologetically Black–however that looks for them–it can be a powerful act of Black Resistance.”

Jordyn Miller , freshman at SUNY Albany and founding member of EL Education’s Student Advisory Council

Each year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) selects a Black History Month theme. ASALH is regarded as an authority on the topic of Black History and the source for themes for the month for many educational and public institutions. Comment end This year’s theme is “Black Resistance.”

Black Resistance is the collective and individual struggle of Black people of the diaspora against anti-Black racism. Specifically, in the United States, this resistance was born out of the lasting legacy of the transatlantic slave trade. Although chattel slavery has ended in the US, Black people still experience violence, systematic disenfranchisement, and exclusion from health care, education, and economic, political, and social life. At its core, Black Resistance is about the fight for justice, equity, inclusion, and freedom in all its varied forms. Read more about Black Resistance on ASALH’s web page.

This month, we’re talking to EL Education students and educators about what Black Resistance means to them and how it plays a role in education.

For Jordyn Miller, a freshman at the State University of New York at Albany and founding member of EL Education’s Student Advisory Council, “authentically being yourself” is the ultimate act of Black Resistance.

As a young Black woman, Jordyn constantly sees code-switching–Black people forced to “change ourselves to fit these standards or these little bubbles that people are trying to put us into.”

Jordyn sees Black students and Congresswomen alike forced to shape their hair to fit White societal norms. Jordyn sees Michelle Obama’s fashion transformation since leaving the White House and freeing herself from public scrutiny. Jordyn sees that when a Black girl expresses displeasure–“simply speaking her truth, speaking her mind about something she’s experienced”–she’s often cast into the stereotypical role of an angry Black girl.

At the same time, Jordyn feels the sting of how she is perceived by her peers when she speaks in Standard American English (SAE) instead of African American Vernacular English (AAVE). She’s been told, “you talk White” when she uses SAE because some of her peers attribute using SAE as an inherently White characteristic.

It can feel impossible for Black people to meet these conflicting expectations about their hair, clothing, or speech.

Jordan knows there’s no “right” way to be Black, though. When Black people resist society’s competing expectations and allow themselves to be authentically, unapologetically Black–however that looks for them–it can be a powerful act of Black Resistance.

It can be difficult to do, though.

Jordyn says that one challenge to Black authenticity is a lack of education on Black culture and history. After all, how can Black students celebrate their history and culture when it’s withheld from them? Even when schools do teach Black history, Jordyn notices that it’s often limited to February, lacks representation, and has an over-reliance on specific well-known historical figures and the most palatable parts of their legacy.

For example, Jordyn remembers reading Phillip Hoose’s book Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, about a Black teenager who refused to give up her seat on a bus in March of 1955–nine months before Rosa Parks did so. Jordyn was shocked; she’d never heard of Claudette Colvin before.

Since then, Jordyn has taken her education into her own hands. She says she’s learned more about Black history, culture, and excellence from “Black creatives on social media and Tiktok” than she ever has in the classroom, causing her to wonder, “Why is this not more in our curriculum?”

Jordyn encourages schools to teach and celebrate Black history, culture, and excellence beyond February because limiting it to Black History Month “can make students feel like they’re only seen at this point.” When Black students have a rich understanding of their history and heritage, it empowers them to be authentically, unapologetically themselves, which is the ultimate act of Black Resistance.

Disclaimer: EL Education is proud to host diverse voices and offer a platform for dialogue on topics impacting educators and students. Views of guest bloggers are their own and may differ from the views of EL Education.

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    Jordyn Miller & Whitney Emke