"You Can't See Me By Looking at Me": Black Girls' Arts-based Practices as Mechanisms for Identity Construction and Resistance

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This dissertation explored how eight adolescent Black girls (co-researchers) used arts-based practices in a virtual summer program as mechanisms for identity construction and resistance. Theoretically grounded in Black Feminist Thought, Black Girlhood, and Black Performance Theory, I designed and implemented a virtual summer art program aimed at co-creating a healing-centered space to engage in critical explorations of history, storytelling, and social justice with Black girls. The co-research team participated in the 5-week Black Girls S.O.A.R. (Scholarship, Organizing, Arts, Resistance) program as part of the study. At the end of the program, co-researchers took themes from the sessions and created artwork to present a Community Arts Showcase to their loved ones.

I combined performance ethnography (Denzin, 2008; Soyini Madison, 2006) and integrated aspects of youth participatory action research to answer the following research questions: 1) How, if at all, do Black girls use arts-based practices as mechanisms for resistance and identity construction? and 2) What specific attributes of Black girls’ involvement in arts-based programs foster identity construction and acts of resistance? This study employed “two-tiered” (Brown, 2010) qualitative data collection. For the first component, co-researchers and I collected our conversation transcripts from the sessions to create a collaborative artistic production. The second component included my concurrent collection of session observations, field notes, pre-and-post interviews, and artwork to document the co-researchers’ experiences in the program. The data showed that Black girls used arts-based practices to 1) rewrite singular historical narratives of Black history in the standard curriculum; 2) share counter-narratives; 3) heal in and build community out; and 4) dream a better world into existence. Additionally, Black girls named 1) showcasing their work to loved ones; 2) being supported by other Black girls; 3) learning about self and communal care; and 4) reexamining history by centering Black women’s resistance as specific attributes of their involvement in the program that contributed to their identity construction and resistance. This study offers much-needed data on the power and potential of culturally-sustaining, arts-based pedagogy in virtual educational spaces, as well as contributes to the growing body of literature that centers Black girls’ epistemologies in education research.