My Sisters' Voices: Teenage Girls of Color Speak Outby Iris Jacob
In the tradition of the bestselling Ophelia Speaks, a collection of provocative essays by teenage girls of color
My Sisters' Voices is a passionate and poignant collection of writings from teenage girls of African American, Hispanic, Asian American, Native American, and biracial backgrounds. With candor and grace, they speak out on topics that are/i>/i>… See more details below
In the tradition of the bestselling Ophelia Speaks, a collection of provocative essays by teenage girls of color
My Sisters' Voices is a passionate and poignant collection of writings from teenage girls of African American, Hispanic, Asian American, Native American, and biracial backgrounds. With candor and grace, they speak out on topics that are relevant not only to themselves and their peers but to anyone who is raising, teaching, or nurturing young women of color.
As adolescents, women, and minorities, these young authors represent a demographic that has had no voice of its own, a group often spoken for but rarely given the opportunity to be heard. Now these young women have a chance to stand up and be counted, to present their own unique perspectives in fresh and astonishing ways. Here you'll find a Native American girl writing about the bumps in her relationship with her best friend, who's white; a Korean American girl who wishes she could help her mother understand that it's okay to socialize with boys as well as girls; and a biracial girl who feels she must be the designated spokesperson for blacks when she's around whites, for whites when she's around blacks, and for biracial people around everyone. These personal and inspiring stories about family, friendship, sex, love, poverty, loss, and oppression make My Sisters' Voices essential reading for young women of all backgrounds.
Read an Excerpt
Four years ago I read Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher. That book helped me understand myself and other teen girls. Pipher does a wonderful job of acknowledging teen girls and the hardships and the happinesses that we face. Her interwoven interviews, personal anecdotes, and facts made me realize what I was going through and that I was not alone.
Next I read Sara Shandler's book, Ophelia Speaks. Shandler wrote the book to give teenage girls the opportunity to tell their own stories. Because I was reading the stories in the girls' own words, I found it easier to connect to them and their stories and to really understand their meaning.
Reading both books profoundly helped my own search for self and my understanding of other girls. However, after reading and connecting to both, I felt something was missing. Pipher had discussed girls of color and so had Shandler. Yet, I felt my struggle had not been truly identified. I felt as though girls of color had a unique and rarely validated struggle. I believed that in addition to bearing the weight of being teenagers and female, we also carry the enormous issues of race and ethnicity.
As I clarified my idea I began to think of ways to express it. My mother remembers that on the first day of 2000, I told her I wanted to write my own book, an Ophelia Speaks for girls of color. She said, "Do it," and I thought it was one of those ideas that would be quickly forgotten.
The idea stayed with me, though, because everywhere I looked, I began to see the need for such a book. Every time I heard racist comments, every time I noticed men putting down women, every time I saw girls of color in pain, I thought back to my idea. Every time I tried to bring about change and was told to back off, wait, or pick my battles, I thought about giving girls of color an opportunity to give their opinions, for once, instead of listening to everyone else's. Such a book wouldn't solve all the world's problems, I knew, but it could empower teenage girls of color. I wanted all the girls of color out there to be able to connect and to know that I feel what they feel. I wanted them to know that when they are stared at, mimicked, or harassed, they are not alone.
And so, with my mother's help, I found a wonderful agent and wrote a proposal. While doing research for the proposal I discovered that there were no self-help books on the market for teenage girls of color. Not one. This made me even more determined to see my project through. I felt as though we as girls of color not only deserved but needed a book, recognition, and a voice so we could be properly heard and acknowledged.
Within nine months of my original idea I had a book contract and went to work. I began to write letters to English teachers, clubs, organizations, and girls I knew to get pieces of writing. Again and again I heard from girls and women of color that the book was very much needed.
When the pieces began to arrive, I felt privileged to be able to read the innermost thoughts of these young women. The insights, feelings, and emotions these girls shared were captivating. The most impressive thing I found was that I could relate to every one. Their heartaches, loves, hates, laughter, and regrets were all something I have experienced in some way or another. My idea of connecting to other girls of color by speaking out and telling our stories had become a reality.
Working on this book began to occupy most of my spare time. When I would tell people about it, in the largely white community where I live, I would be met with blank stares. Then I would have to explain the concept and I would get more blank stares, or I would get patronizing comments like, 'That's an interesting project." So I stopped telling anyone; even many of my closest friends had no idea what my book was all about. But then again, many of my close friends had never understood what I had experienced as a girl of color. I didn't tell them for a variety of reasons and they didn't ask.
Reading the submissions from girls ages twelve to nineteen, from all over the country, made me feel as though someone did, in fact, understand me. That's how I know this book is what I wanted it to be and if the words on these pages comfort even one more girl of color, it will be a success in my eyes.
Many of the pieces of writing I received reminded me of my own experiences. I remember changing for gym class in sixth grade and having all the white girls stand and watch as I neatly pulled my braids back, so as to not mess up my hair by playing basketball. I remember the questions like: "Do you braid your hair every night?" and "Is that really human hair, attached onto your hair or is it horse hair?" Such questions led me to hate myself and also my peers. I spent my middle school years hating all those who were around me. Because the city I lived in and the school I attended were more than 90 percent white, I had trouble finding anyone with experiences similar to my own.
In my sixth-grade year I made friends with a Latina girl named Rosa. Our friendship stemmed from our similar treatment by the whites at our school; we both dealt with the issues of identity, power, and culture. By eighth grade Rosa had been suspended four times and then switched schools. Her method of coping had been retaliating, telling the white people how she really felt. One day in the hall she told me she wanted to hit "this stupid lil' white girl." I told her to do what she wanted (I'll admit I wanted her to) and then she did. She grabbed the girl by her long blond hair, swung her around, and slapped her. Rosa's anger was not at this particular white girl. Her anger was within. She was furious that she was forced to be the translator between her parents and the rest of the city. She was angry that she had to continuously deal with the young white girls and their problems, which she felt were petty compared to her own.
Rosa and I took different paths. She let out her anger while I kept mine in. I wrote in my journal, cried, and treated everyone with contempt. I hated everyone and everything, yet I did not know why. I had three best, friends; all were white. I was never actually close to them. We would share secrets, yet I never told them my most important one: that I was not like them. When race was brought up, one of us would quickly change the subject.
I know now that the anger Rosa and I experienced is not out of the ordinary. Teen girls of color all over the country feel this way! We are angry at not belonging. We are angry that society allows us to feel marginalized and oppressed because of our race and gender.
I hated that I was forced to sit in an all-white classroom and pray that the subject of race was never discussed. I was furious that I was regularly sexually harassed on the street, but that none of the boys in school seemed interested in me. I raged because while I knew I was beautiful, I felt so ugly.
When I was younger, my anger was turned inward. Something had to be wrong with me; it couldn't be anything else. I just didn't understand. I was convinced that I was alone because I had made myself that way. It was my fault that I was uncomfortable talking about race, no one else's. It was up to me to share my feelings that's why no one talked to me about it, not because they didn't care, but because it was my problem. I had been told my entire life that I was beautiful and that I had outstanding potential, so it was my fault for not believing it.
As a result, I spent many nights screaming into my pillow and crying. At one point I came up with a new plan. When I would get angry, I would brush my hair. This way it would have a better chance of becoming straight (I assumed by some miracle that this would happen eventually), and I would have a great way of getting my anger out, brushing as hard as I could.
In eighth grade I became more involved in school. I spoke up, I organized a few clubs, and I became active in my community. Throughout this period I felt a sense of wanting to prove myself. I wanted the white kids at my school, the white people in the community, to know that I was capable of something. I wanted to impress them. For too long I had been quiet, and now they needed to know that I was capable. At the same time I realized that none of the white kids were doing this. I wondered why they didn't want to impress the community and feel like they needed to prove themselves.
In eighth grade I also made more friends and had more fun. However, my anger was still there. It was just cleverly masked and hidden. Now, instead of being angry at the white girls' I wanted to be like them. I dressed like them, I tried to have bangs, I shaved my legs (even though they contained almost no hair), and I wore makeup. But these behaviors were just ways for me to cope with my anger.
The next year my family moved away. I began to attend a small, predominately white school in a larger, more diverse city. That summer I once again became involved in my community. I attended a leadership institute on diversity work, worked at a camp for fourth- to sixth-graders, and went to a religious camp. It was then that I began to really change. I started to realize that I, as a teen girl of color, was different from others in society. I returned to my school the next year, and I focused on change. With much resistance, I was able to start affinity groups for girls and students of color. And this was when the idea of writing a book first came to me not because I enjoy writing (although I'm learning to) but because I wanted to bring together girls of color.
Copyright (c) 2002 Iris Jacob
Meet the Author
Iris Jacob is an eighteen-year-old biracial female with a strong commitment to diversity issues. She has been a student facilitator at numerous diversity conferences, has started affinity groups for students of color and women at her high school, and codirected a youth leadership institute addressing topics of oppression, prejudice, and awareness.
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