‘Writing Blackgirls’ and Women’s Health Science’

Edited by CCAS professor Jameta Barlow, the collection of works focuses on the well-being of Black girls and women.

February 26, 2024

Jameta Barlow

Professor Jameta Barlow edited the collection of scholars' works that focuses on the health of Black girls and Black women.

As we near the end of Black History Month and the George Washington University’s Black Heritage Celebration, GW Today sat down with Jameta Barlow, director of undergraduate studies for the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, to discuss “Writing Blackgirls’ and Women’s Health Science,” a collection of works by scholars that examines the health and well being of Black girls and women. Published in late December 2023, Barlow edited the book that includes a contribution from Maranda Ward, an assistant professor of clinical and leadership in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Barlow, also an assistant professor of writing in the University Writing Program and the Women’s Leadership Program, said the book is a direct result of the Meridians journal’s special issue on Blackgirls’ and women’s health, which resulted in a 2018 conference on Black girls’ and women's health and a GW course taught every other spring on the topic. “This book applies,” Barlow said, “what our foremothers taught us.”

Writing Blackgirls and Women's Health Science

Q: Let’s start with the title of the book, “Blackgirls and Women’s Health Science,” Why is “Blackgirls” one word?

A: I'm in alignment with Dr. LeConte Dill (Michigan State University) and how she describes this in Chapter 3. "When I say ‘Blackgirl,’ it is intentionally written as one word. I am leaning on and learning from Drs. Robin Boylorn (2016) and Dominique C. Hill (2019) who 1) reject the compartmentalization of Blackgirls’ lives, stories and bodies, 2) see the oneness of their/our identities, and 3) see them/us as whole and complex."

Regardless of our age, a majority of the contributors are Blackgirls and this resonates with the cadence with which we, as Black women researchers, call upon one another. I include women because for so many years, due to the dehumanization of the chattel slavery and human trafficking system that shaped the U.S., Black women weren't even viewed as women. Together, Blackgirls and women represent the community that deserves a reframing of knowledge production, methodology and policy.

Q:  You serve notice in the introduction of the importance of language in how people come to know what they know and express what they know? 

A: The only way we minimize bias and work toward eliminating bias in health research on Blackgirls and women is to center the conversation around philosophy of science—ontologies, epistemologies and methodologies. Writing and rhetoric offers a space to engage in this process. This is what I do for my students—they learn writing can become a pathway for community and policy change.

The goal of this work is to ultimately heal as many Blackgirls and women by changing how we think and do this work. Thus, healing is essential to the science of health on Blackgirls and women.

Q: In one chapter, GW’s Maranda Ward defends the surgeon general under former President Donald Trump, Jerome Adams, for using language such as “Big Momma” and “abuela” in appealing to communities of color to take precautions against infecting more vulnerable family members with COVID-19. Can you explain?

A: We can celebrate our cultures and the roles that Black women, especially older grandmother-type Black women, who have always anchored our communities, but not problematize or cater to our communities in demeaning ways. At the time, that is what the surgeon general was doing, by not critically addressing the health promotion practices and principles and ignoring the nuanced nature of who was at risk for COVID without blaming individuals for systemic issues.

Q: Writers in the essays reference revered Black women writers such as Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Toni Cade Bombara. What should readers glean from their writings and their lives?

A: Black women's health researchers carry a heavy burden because we are often fighting to address health issues in our communities, often battling the same illnesses ourselves or in our families in ways that are vastly different from our peers. Black women are the most informed, prepared and accurate group to discuss Black women's health. Any research on Blackgirls' and women's health that does not engage with any Black girl or woman is problematic, and, dare I say, unethical.

Q: Where do these authors fit in the continuum of the movement that stems from the 1970s when the concerns of Black women were subordinated to the larger push for equality for women and the struggles of Black nationalists?

A: While our foremothers in the 1970s were fighting for many of the same rights we are today, we are moving the needle further but interrogating the disciplines, approaches, assumptions and methodologies used to address Blackgirls' and women's health. Because we study Blackgirls and women, we don't compare to white women and practice a within-group approach to better understand, explain, synthesize and analyze the issues so we can make recommendations.

Q: What do you hope the impact of “Blackgirls’ and Women’s Health” will be on public health in general?

A: My hope is that this book becomes a catalyst for the interrogation of knowledge production and more discourse on the role of ontologies and epistemologies in shaping methodologies. In order to address health equities, we must address how we think about these topics, assumptions that are made and how this contributes to clinical, policy, research and practice decision-making. The goal is to transform how we think about and do science and health work affecting Blackgirls' and women's health.