CoursesSighting Black Girlhood
AFRC 3804 / AFRC 6804 / ANTH 3804 / ANTH 6804

Sighting Black Girlhood

The class is part of a broader multi-year project that is designed to address the gendered dimensions of broader social inequalities. As this is a weekly three-hour seminar, students will be expected to participate robustly in class discussions, and in all “field” visits.  Because the course involves a variety of forms of community engagement and summer travel, all interested students should fill out the attached questionnaire and send the responses to deborah.thomas@sas.upenn.edu.

Tuesdays, 1:45 PM – 4:44 PM
(Approved Wharton requirement sector: Social Sciences and Cross-Cultural Perspective)

Course Description:  

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the deep inequities of our social systems, and protests against police killings drew broader attention to anti-Black state violence worldwide, yet the gendered dimensions of these problems are not always fully understood.  While many in the public have come to recognize the suffering of Black boys and men as acute and eventful, Black girls’ suffering has remained largely invisible, a slow confluence of violences that too often go unaddressed.  As one way to bring the issues facing Black girls globally to public attention, and to celebrate and support Black girls, this course will provide a background for understanding the challenges faced by Black girls in Philadelphia, Jamaica, and South Africa.  We will frame these challenges historically and geopolitically, drawing attention to the issues that contribute to the invisibility of the ordinary Black girl in diverse sites, as well as the resources that will begin to address them.  This course, team taught by Professors Grace Sanders Johnson and Deborah Thomas (in collaboration as well with GSE Professor Krystal Small) also aims to equip students to understand the relationships between research and creative work, and to see artistic production as a catalyst for community-building and critical thinking and action.  Toward this end, we will work with a number of partners in Philadelphia, including the Colored Girls Museum and Black Lives Matter-Philly.  A similar course will be offered simultaneously at the University of Johannesburg under the auspices of the Center for the Study of Race, Class, and Gender, and taught by Victoria Collis-Buthelezi and documentary filmmaker Zethu Matebeni.  We plan for the two groups of students to meet together (via zoom), when possible.  The course is supported by the SNF Paideia Program, and by a Making a Difference in Global Communities Grant.

The class is part of a broader multi-year project that is designed to address the gendered dimensions of broader social inequalities.  The course was inspired by the exhibit and portrait campaign recently mounted by the Colored Girls Museum, founded and directed by Vashti Dubois.  It was designed to see Black girlhood as a sacred space, and to offer the portrait of the ordinary Black girl as a monument and a ritual of care.  The project was envisioned as a traveling experience through which the portraits would cross boundaries and move around the world, developing the company of other Black girls in other places, who would then travel along with them.  Our broader project will be one vehicle of this travel, as students from the seminar will accompany faculty and community partners to Jamaica (summer 2022) and South Africa (summer 2023) to develop locally-relevant iterations of “The First Time…”.  Over two weeks, students will engage with both artists and community partners who have been involved in civil society and legal organizing related to girls, women, and community development.  Through these engagements, they will also learn about both the continuities and specificities of issues facing black girls in different diasporic locations.

Hear more about the course from Professor Thomas and Professor Sanders Johnson in this interview for The PARK Podcast:

Section Attributes:
  • AFRC African American Studies (AAFA)
  • AFRC African Diaspora Studies (AAFD)
  • AFRC African Studies (AAFS)
  • AFRC Research (AAFR)
  • ANTH Cultural and Linguistics (AACL)
  • Designated SNF Paideia Program Course (UNPP)

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