Thursday, May 8, 2014
What Can I Do?
There are the lone rangers; people insisting that if you gave them a gun and ten minutes, they would free all the girls...despite their lack of knowledge of the geography or terrain or the climate. There are the diplomats; folks who insist that they could negotiate or talk their way into getting terrorists to release these girls...as if one can reason with unhinged armed terrorists. And as we continue, as a nation, to consider and discard ways that we can truly help to free these schoolchildren, ordinary folks are simply asking: "what can I do?"
I'm one of those people. I have no allusions of being able to personally engage in a gun battle and I'm skeptical any time America sends troops into another country. I recognize and respect Nigeria as a sovereign nation that must handle its own affairs, even as I know their government and military are broken. So what can I, an American citizen thousands of miles from this conflict, do to help these girls? How can I help end the violation of human rights in another country, without imposing my own narrow viewpoint? How can I support my Nigerian brothers and sisters, without silencing their voices and agency? As I've sat with these questions, I decided that there are things we can all do:
1) Work to create a culture of respect for black girls in America. There is little value assigned to the lives of black girls in America, as well as globally. We don't celebrate their beauty and accomplishments; we don't affirm their capacities and abilities. In our patriarchal and white supremacist society, black girls are often the least and the last. As a nation, we export our dominant standards of beauty and normativity; we uplift those groups and people that we value and we make them the face of a nation. The world knows that a nation protects and cherishes and defends that which it loves. When we insist on creating a culture of love and respect for black girls in America, we can export that respect throughout the world: we can take a stand and proclaim "black girls matter" everywhere when we make sure that black girls matter in our own backyards.
2) Work to create a safe environment for black girls in America to grow into adulthood. When we engage in conversations about crime or the prison industrial complex or education, our conversations are driven by what is happening to boys. And yet, black girls face unprecedented violence, harassment, disproportionate imprisonment rates, abuse, and neglect - much of which is not part of the grand narrative we tell about racism and inequity in this country. What are we doing to make the lives of black girls safe in America? What are we doing to make sure that they can safely reach adulthood? While we are grateful that black girls are not being stolen from their dorm rooms in the United States, we cannot remain silent when they are being shot in their living rooms or on front porches.
3) Work to expand resources for black girls in America to thrive and compete in a global market. Nigeria has one of the most highly educated populations in the world. The schoolchildren kidnapped from their dorms were there to take final exams; most of them had sat for a physics exam prior to their abduction. The socio-economic and racial reality of life in America is that the vast majority of black girls in this country will not attend schools that prepare them for physics or engineering. And while black girls and women are graduating from high school and college at very high rates, they are still earning far less than white men and white women for the same work. Black girls are systematically discouraged from pursuing STEM fields; they often don't have mentors or advisors who support their educational dreams; they must contend with the forces of both racism and sexism in their pursuit of an education. When we work to expand education and technological resources for black girls in this country, whole communities are transformed and thrive because of it.
4) Donate time, energy, financial resources to local and global organizations that understand the rights of women and children are human rights. When girls are subjected to sexual slavery, forced marriage, child marriage, unregulated labor, and denied an education, they are experiencing abuses of their fundamental human rights and they are being stripped of human dignity. Access to a quality education, reproductive rights, and marriage rights are as crucial to girls thriving as are fresh air, clean water, and nutritious food. We must support those organizations, both in this country and globally, working to ensure that girls have freedom to make choices about their futures.
I believe in a God who loves and cares for the "least of these," a God who is always on the side of the oppressed, a God who calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and a God who hears the prayers of the broken...so I will continue to pray. And while I pray, I will work for the safety and protection of the most vulnerable among us. What can I do? I can value, love, protect, nurture, advocate for, fight on behalf of all the black girls in my life and in this country - knowing that their lives matter both here and abroad. If we want black girls to matter in Nigeria, we have to make sure that black girls matter right here in America.
© Yolanda Pierce