“Fluid and Shifting: Racialized, Gendered, and Sexual Identity in African American Children”

By Denise Isom.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

“Being Black…it’s, we’re sometimes rugged, sometimes nice, sometimes just plain mean, but that’s…the way life is.” These words from a 5th grade girl reflected so much of what I heard from the children who participated in two studies exploring racialized gender identity in African American children. The participants were wise and insightful and strong beyond their years. They spoke of a deeply racialized reality, a gendered social world, and operated from a sense of self that was multifaceted and shifting. Bombarded by external images, they both reflected and at time rejected internalization of constructed identities.
This paper presents the findings from two qualitative studies of African American Children and racialized gender identity. The initial research project employed participant observation ethnography, a questionnaire, and one-on-one interviews to illumine the meaning making world of African American children, focusing on the articulations and lived manifestations of their definitions of gender and racial constructions, including maleness, femaleness, femininity, masculinity, “Blackness,” and the intersections of race and gender–racialized gender identity. The participants were 5th, 6th, and 7th grade African American boys and girls in a community based after-school program. Their words and lives revealed a striving and overcoming racial identity, a maleness that was both externally derived and an achieved status centered on performance, as well as a masculinity oriented around caring and relationship. Femaleness emerged as strong, multitudinous, and varied, yet sexualized by a male gaze and silent in the face of it.
The follow-up study sought to engage those same issues of racialized gender, but in a church context in an effort to explore identity at the intersection of religiosity. Again, ethnography and interview were used to capture the voice of Black children. The participants of the follow-up study reflected a wider age range and were between the ages of ten and eighteen. What emerged was a sharp display of the fluidity of sexual identity. The children described their experiences with and around various forms of sexuality and expressed their, often creative, efforts to mesh those experiences with their denomination’s conservative theology. In both studies, the children displayed ideas that were a direct reflection of popular culture representations around race and gender, while also engaging in discourse that revealed the presence and desire for “authentic” identity, a self apart from external constructions.

Keywords: Race, Gender, Racialized Gender, African American Children

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 6, Issue 11, pp.127-138. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 833.514KB).

Dr. Denise Isom

Associate Professor, Ethnic Studies Department, Loyola University, San Luis Obispo, Cailfornia, USA

Dr. Denise Isom received her doctorate in socio-cultural anthropology of education from Loyola University, Chicago. Her areas of expertise include: racialized gender identity; African American studies; race, culture, class, and gender; and multi-cultural education. Her current research agenda includes studies on racialized gender identity in African American children and also the racialized nature of congregational life. Her work has been presented at numerous national and international conferences; published in journals such as The Urban Review and The Journal of Race, Equality, and Teaching; and been presented in chapters on boy culture, teaching race, and African American female psychology and identity.


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