Black Girl, White School: Thriving, Surviving, and "No, You Can't Touch My Hair"

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
Black Girl, White School: Thriving, Surviving, and "No, You Can't Touch My Hair" Book Poster Image
Remarkable anthology brims with solidarity for Black girls.

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Educational Value

In addition to offering the viewpoints of individual girls, the book provides vocabulary and frameworks that can help readers think through the issues and discuss them with others. For example, one essay explains the difference between assimilation (changing oneself to fit in, often in response to pressure or force), code switching (cultivating distinct personas for different groups you interact with), and "acting white" (often an insult coming from other people, to diminish their achievements or accuse them of selling out).

Positive Messages

Be yourself. Love yourself. You're not alone in your challenges. We can make it.

Positive Role Models

Every writer who contributed to this anthology did so as an act of leadership and role modeling. The authors are candid about their vulnerabilities as well as their strengths. They express righteous anger without being judgmental toward others. They're not afraid to be sentimental. In a subtle, very effective graphic design choice, the editor supplies the adult women's occupations, so that girls can see that these educational hardships can pay off, as they too might someday be "M.D.," "CEO," or "author." 

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Black Girl, White School: Thriving, Surviving, and "No, You Can't Touch My Hair," edited by Olivia V.G. Clarke, is an anthology of poems and essays about the experience of being a Black girl or young woman pursuing an education in a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). Clarke is an 16-year-old African American high school senior and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) activist. The contributors include teen girls and adult Black women who attended PWIs. Authors share their challenges with situations such as teachers who mispronounce their names, White schoolmates who make hurtful remarks (intentionally or not), and Black community members who accuse them of "acting white." They also celebrate the triumphant moments of coming to accept their bodies, their culture, and their unique life paths. There are two companion journals to this title, one for Black girls and the other for allies. 

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What's the story?

The pieces in BLACK GIRL, WHITE SCHOOL: THRIVING, SURVIVING, AND NO YOU CAN'T TOUCH MY HAIR explore what it's like to be a Black girl studying in a predominately White school. The book is intended to let girls in this situation know they're not alone in their daily difficulties, from microagressions to blatant racism to their own self-doubt and dips in self-esteem. It includes essays and poems from girls and women. 

Is it any good?

This remarkable book is a balm for its intended niche audience (Black teen girls attending predominantly White schools), and potentially a tool for creating empathy in other readers. Olivia V.G. Clarke self-published Black Girl, White School: Thriving, Surviving, and "No, You Can't Touch My Hair"  with the help of her mother, Terreece Clarke, a journalist  -- and Common Sense Media book reviewer (who wasn't involved in writing or editing this review) -- who contributed the Afterword. As editor, Clarke does a wonderful job of balancing polemical, inspirational, and educational content. There is also diversity in the backgrounds and interests of the writers. For instance, one young woman writes about being a Muslim; another, about playing on the field hockey team; another, about how she deals with racist comments coming from a non-Black person of color. 

The young women open up about their concerns authentically in these essays. Though each poem and essay is well written, reading them feels more like overhearing a rap group than consuming writing meant to be literary. The sharp focus on a specific reader and topic makes the book especially valuable to people going through or learning about this experience. The book is refreshingly free of agendas other than the one the title indicates: supporting Black girls studying in Predominantly White Institutions. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the variety of challenges the writers face in Black Girl, White School. Have you encountered these challenges? Is there something you would like to have read about that wasn't covered?

  • Some of the pieces are letters from an older woman or girl to her younger self. What would you write to your younger self?

  • The editor of this anthology is a high school senior, who enlisted peers and mentors to contribute their work. If you were to publish your work, what would you write about?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of racism, anti-racism, and social justice

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