Brown Sugar and Spice: Exploring Black Girlhood at Elite, White Schools

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Black girls who attend elite, predominantly white schools face a host of unique challenges and tasks in achieving a positive, resolved gendered-racial identity; they must learn to reconcile external and potentially negative definitions of Black girlhood while making their own meaning of being a young, Black woman. I take an intracategorical approach to understanding the development and experience of this intersectional identity in a predominantly white, elite independent school. This study highlights Black girls lived experience in this specific context to reveal how their multidimensional identities develop, shape and are shaped by their schools. First, I explore the sources on which the girls relied to better understand their Black girl identities. Second, I examine the relationship between school context and the girls’ romantic experiences and romantic self-concept. Last, I investigate whether and in what manner school settings influence second-generation, Black immigrant girls’ identity development. Using data collected from fifty semi-structured, narrative style interviews, I find that in elite, white school settings, (i) Black girls were the most influential figures in one another’s identity development process; (ii) their white school contexts limited Black girls’ romantic opportunities in ways that contributed to a negative romantic self-concept; and (iii) in elite, white school settings, second-generation Black immigrant girls developed hybrid identities that integrated their ethnic heritage, their experiences in America as Black girls, and their experiences of difference and desire for racial community at school.






Young, Bethany J (2019). Brown Sugar and Spice: Exploring Black Girlhood at Elite, White Schools. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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