Are Black Girls Not Gifted? Race, Gender, and Resilience

Evans-Winters’ article examined the often overlooked underrepresentation of black girls in gifted education, specifically citing the ways in which the multiple identities and oppressions foster resiliency. The article also stated that failing to understand the intersectionality of these identifies leads to an underrepresentation of black female experiences in research as well as an absence in gifted programs. A 2009 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) report revealed that 8.1% of participants in gifted and talented education are girls, yet only 5.2% of girls are black while 35% gifted girls are white. Her article examines the ways  education can “utilize educational resilience research on Black girls for gifted education reform and what models exist for framing how giftedness presents and manifests in Black girls…” (Evans-Winters, 2014, p.23).

resiliencycanbetaught
Can resiliency be taught?

Black girls experience a double threat to their success, due to race and gender issues and discrimination in society. Additionally, black girls may be faced with a third threat, classism, when they come from poverty. These threats are compounded on to normal adolescent stressors and can have a huge impact on their self-esteem and self-concept development. When considering gifted programming for black girls, educators should consider the support structures they can provide and/or nurture in gifted black girls’ families, communities and schools. Specifically, it notes the ways in which one positive female relationship can help promote success (Evans-Winters, 2014).

Research shows that black girls have higher self esteem that their white counterparts in part “retained through close contact and interactions within the Black community,” yet at times this comes at the expense of academic achievement (Evans-Winters, 2014, p. 25). On the other hand, black girls who have high levels of resiliency and high self esteem are more likely to be academically successful despite being at high risk. Gifted programming fails to recognize the distinct experiences and abilities of black girls to navigate these intersections of race, class and gender, but more research is needed to fully understand their resiliency and appropriate ways to assess their giftedness using culturally relevant assessments that recognize the intersectionalities of their identities  (Evans-Winters, 2014).  Finally, the article notes that it “is obvious that “giftedness” like “resilience” is contextually bound in time, place, and culture”  (Evans-Winters, 2014, p. 27).

In my undergraduate Women’s Studies and African American Studies programs, we talked and read a lot about the intersections of race, class and gender. It shocks me that there is not more discussion about this in education. These identities affect all of us at basic levels, in our everyday experiences, and a lack of understanding of their impact on educational success is unacceptable.

When it comes to identification of gifted children, although we are moving to a multiple criteria system, these criteria are still rigid at times and based on the cultural experiences of the dominant culture. As we were discussing the chapter on rural gifted students, Floyd, McGinnis and Grantham (2011) noted that “instruments are developed based on urban or suburban values and behaviors” (p. 32). They go on to note that rural students have different educational and life experiences compared to their counterparts in more suburban or urban areas. I would argue that black students are also at a disadvantage when it comes to testing and identification due to the implicit biases associated with dominant culture. Often times, the black students I taught had never been out of their neighborhoods. They didn’t have the means to travel or experience the world in the way their middle and upper class peers did. This caused gaps in knowledge. When tests are written for (and often by) the dominant, white male culture, the fail to recognize the ways in which these multiple identities shape knowledge and potentially mask gifted identification.

Thinking back to my time in the Richmond Public School system, I can recall several female students who achieved in spite of the barriers that existed. In reflecting on their experiences, all of them were publicly confident in both themselves as people and their academic abilities. They all had support systems in school and at least one female teacher they were close with. They were also very involved in their churches and after-school activities, taking leadership positions in organizations such as the SCA. This created a resilience that allowed them to overcome the many pressures to conform and which attempted to block their success.

There was one student specifically that comes to mind. She had a younger sister at the school and they were, for all intents and purposes, the exact opposite. They had the same family upbringing, the same family support and schooling. Yet, one was gifted and the other was not. The older girl was very successful, and had adopted, as Evans-Winters (2014) stated a “bicultural identity alongside their cultural pride” (p. 26) which allowed her to cope and achieve. Her sister, on the other hand, had not adopted this bicultural identity. She was often unkind to other students and her friends who were trying to succeed academically. She made comments about them “trying to be white,” as attaining academic success at times is seen as reserved for whites only.  

As Evans-Winters (2014) stated, more research is needed into the ways these identities shape our understanding of black gifted girls. I would argue that there needs to be more research that connects with the feminist literature around identities, oppressions and the experiences of girls in school in general to help promote the success of all girls. And yes, more attention specifically needs to be called to the ways these identities create barriers for black girls’ giftedness to be identified and served in schools.

References

Evans-Winters, V. (2014). Are black girls not gifted? Race, gender, and resilience.Interdisciplinary Journal of Teaching and Learning, 4 (1). pp. 22-30.    

Floyd, E.F., McGinnis J.L., & Granting, T.C. (2011). Gifted education in rural environments.  In J.A. Castellano & A.D. Frazier (Eds), Special Populations in GIfted Education: Understanding Our Most Able Students from Diverse  Background. (99-123). Texas: Prufrock.

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