Vashti DuBois, 58, Owner of The Colored Girls Museum
When you come into the museum, the principal focus is the four girls who were killed in the 16th St. Baptist church bombing in Mississippi. The Four Girls by Michael Clemmons made out of ceramic vessels is one of the first pieces you see, downstairs in the front room.
People speak about those four girls as though they willingly got up that morning and their caregivers sent them off to church to give their life for a cause. When in fact, we know that their parents sent them off that morning and fully expected them to return home.
It makes me think of the young girl [Dajerria Becton] in 2015, in the pink bathing suit, who was straddled by a grown man, a police officer, because of an interaction.
We send our daughters out into the world and we fully expect that they are going to come back unscarred.
We have no ability to imagine that someone is going to be riding them like a horse at 15 years of age.
There are just too many examples in our history. There’s a book called A Girl Stands At The Door: A Generation of Young Women Who Desegregated America’s Schools by Rachel Delvin. It talks about the decision to really send Black girls in to integrate these schools because Black girls were better suited for it that than Black boys were. And we can sort of understand the psychology of it given what we know about the times but what a painful decision, right.
How much did these girls suffer through? Some of which is documented but much of which they never tell and who thought that they were “the better sacrifice “? And how does that belief continue to repeat itself as we move forward?
They could handle it which has become sort of the burden that we’ve carried over the years.
We can look at what’s happening with young Black girls in our school system and mental health statistics and we can see that we’re actually not handling it, because it’s too much.
There’s a way in which Black women are just not considered human, not considered women.
I never really understood why when Black men, in particular, would say “this female” why I found it so bruising. The reason it really it makes you cave in is that there’s something about being referred to as a female that actually dehumanizes you all together. It makes any action towards you or against you perfectly and completely okay.
It creates a different definition of what it might mean to be a Black girl or a Black woman. Where and when does the colored girl get to define for herself what her description of womanhood might be? The descriptions from white womanhood leaves a great deal of our experiences are out of it.
There’s a particular way that we move in the world that I think really infuriates folks. It infuriates them that we are not dead yet. That we continue not only to survive but to thrive, to elevate, to love, to heal, to share, to shake things up. There’s a resentment and a perverse curiosity to go beneath the skin and figure out our ability to do all those things.
“Why are you still here? And you have the nerve to be confident. You have the nerve to get up after we’ve knocked you down. You have the nerve to believe that you deserve something.”
When I have an opportunity to meet with young girls at the museum, especially in the colored boy’s room, I ask the question, “Do you believe Black boys require more protection than you do?”
I actually remember one group that did a tour and before the girls could respond the women with them said “Yes.”
I said, “Well, I actually want to hear from the girls.”
And the majority of the girl’s said “yes, that boys have a harder life, you know, drugs, vulnerability in the streets, police killings, killing each other.”
We have an awareness about the things that are happening to Black boys because we talk about it. Do we talk about the violence against Black girls? Do we have an awareness of that ? Or do we think that’s okay? Do we sort of accept that as par for the course? I began to see the wheels turning.
If we feed that narrative it creates a space in relationships where our young women feel like it’s okay for somebody to mistreat them because [Black boys’] lives are harder so, “Why should I complain?”
She takes it out on herself. She takes it out on other colored girls, she takes it out on her children. It has to go somewhere.
We have a responsibility and that responsibility actually doesn’t belong to anybody else but the colored girl, to provide her the protection and praise that she so richly deserves.
The creation of The Colored Girls Museum is really a response to the need to see yourself the way that you would want to see yourself. Not the way that somebody else wants to define you. There are so many ways the colored girl can be seen, like there’s no one room, there’s no one story, there’s no one skin color, hair type that can begin to define the experience of colored girlhood because it is so complex. It’s so deep, wide, so rich that we could be going and going. The ways the colored girl articulate her experiences will always be different. The colored girl is considered to be at the bottom of most things so, if we know her story, we have the potential to know everybody’s story. If we do not know her story, we have no real entry into this world, into the human story because she houses all of that. She is all of that.
I like to say the world colors the colored girl angry, colors her oversexual, colors her too aggressive, just colors her. Takes this Crayola crayon and just goes to work. Then the colored girl will take that same crayon and color herself. And color her people.