"If your heart and your honest body can be controlled by the state, or controlled by community taboo, are you not then, and in that case, no more than a slave ruled by outside force."
Call on any Black girl to recite the salient moral values and sexual information that is transferred in her middle school health class, and the answer will be, more often than not, brief and simple: “Don’t have sex.” From as early as the age of 13, Black children receive a sexual education permeated with restrictive gender ideology and an overwhelming indoctrination of fear. In the educational sphere, Black children are readily acquainted with a variety of STD's and STI's, what they look like, smell like, and how they are contracted. They learn that it only takes one sexual act with an HIV-positive person to contract the virus. They are trained to distinguish diseases that are reversible from diseases that will exist for a lifetime. The vast majority of educators; however, typically refrain from engaging in complex, multifaceted conversations with children about the politics of consent and sexual assault. In theory, these spaces are progressive enough to foster a constellation of questions about the parameters of erotic love, bodily pleasure, and consensual sex. But in praxis, many of these programs fall short when it comes to the depth Black children, particularly Black girls, deserve.
Hesitancy to educate Black children on sexual assault is often justified by the heavy nature of the subject matter. To this, I argue that the reality of Black girls’ endemic confrontation with sexual harassment and assault, unguided by someone who looks like them and understands them, is heavy. When Black boys grow into Black men who conflate romantic love with acts of violence, the psychological trauma that survivors of their abuse suffer, is heavy. Black girls are disproportionately subject to human trafficking, child sexual assault, and intimate partner violence; we must hold ourselves accountable to initiating these conversations with the next generation of Black girls and boys. Individuals in our communities continue to uphold toxic masculinity with the continued support and lack of criticism of male purveyors of sexual violence. Most recently, this was apparent when the cases of Black artists R. Kelly and Usher surfaced in the media. Yes - Black girls in health class are taught to practice safer sex - but who is telling them that when their partner lies to them about their status (in the case of Usher), that this is an act of violence? And if the topic of sexual assault is uttered in the classroom, who will tell them that rape can be perpetrated by the same individuals who claim to love them? If we can sit our children down to have difficult discussions about racial bias in the criminal justice system, we can also trust them to engage in mature conversations about sexual assault.
Composing a holistic sex-ed curriculum that addresses the grey areas of consent is critical to initiating the non-linear process of healing for the next generation of Black women. Black Women’s Blueprint carries this philosophy into the work we will be doing at the Emerging Girls Summer Camp this August. This summer we will be hosting at least two workshops on child sexual assault, with a focus on community organizing strategies. Through these workshops, we aim to fill the spaces left unresolved by public education, mainstream media, and other institutions that sustain the insidious structure of hegemonic masculinity. Since these conversations are not always easy to have, we will accompany these lessons with healing arts workshops, where we will introduce the girls to creative self-care strategies. By the close of this program, we hope to foster a profound understanding of their relationship with the body, mind, and soul from numerous insightful, survivor-centered conversations on sexual assault.