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Downed by Friendly Fire

Black Girls, White Girls, and Suburban Schooling

2016
Author:

Signithia Fordham

Downed by Friendly Fire

Rehabilitating the meaning of gender-specific violence

An ethnography of white and black girls at an upstate New York high school, Downed by Friendly Fire examines the girls’ relationships to academic achievement, social competition, and aggression toward one another. Signithia Fordham unmasks and examines female-centered bullying in schools, arguing that girls academically “compete to lose,” which only perpetuates their subordination through the misrecognition of their own competitive behaviors.

Introducing a new interpretive framework with fresh and original analysis, Signighia Fordham is doing something really unique here. Her grounded, intersectional investigation of girls' peer-to-peer conflict is in constant interplay with an exploration of symbolic violence in girls' lives in different circumstances and on multiple levels, challenging our taken-for-granted notions not only about girls, but about the larger forces at play in our own lives.

Lyn Mikel Brown, author of Girlfighting: Betrayal and Rejection among Girls

Most Americans would never willingly revisit their high school experiences; the nation’s school systems reflect the broader society’s hierarchical emphasis on race, class, and gender. While schools purport to provide equal opportunities for all students, this rarely happens in actuality—particularly for girls.

In Downed by Friendly Fire, Signithia Fordham unmasks and examines female-centered bullying in schools, arguing that it is essential to unmask female aggression, bullying, and competition, all of which directly relate to the structural violence embedded in the racialized and gendered social order. For two and a half years, Fordham conducted field research at “Underground Railroad High School,” a suburban high school in upstate New York. Through a series of composite student profiles, she examines the girls’ relationships to academic achievement, social competition, and aggression toward one another. Fordham argues that girls academically “compete to lose,” which only perpetuates their subordination through the misrecognition of their own competitive behaviors. She goes further to expand the meaning of violence to include what is seen as normal, including suffering, humiliation, and social and economic abuse.

Using the concept “symbolic violence,” Fordham theorizes the psychological and social damage suffered especially by black girls in schools. The five narratives in Downed by Friendly Fire ultimately highlight the pain and suffering this violence produces as well as the ways in which it promotes inequality, exclusion, and marginalization among girls.

Downed by Friendly Fire

Signithia Fordham is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Rochester and the author of Blacked Out: Dilemmas of Race, Identity, and Success at Captial High.

Downed by Friendly Fire

Introducing a new interpretive framework with fresh and original analysis, Signighia Fordham is doing something really unique here. Her grounded, intersectional investigation of girls' peer-to-peer conflict is in constant interplay with an exploration of symbolic violence in girls' lives in different circumstances and on multiple levels, challenging our taken-for-granted notions not only about girls, but about the larger forces at play in our own lives.

Lyn Mikel Brown, author of Girlfighting: Betrayal and Rejection among Girls

In a no-holds-barred account, Signithia Fordham critically interrogates the enculturated forms of symbolic violence whose misrecognition sustains gendered, racialized, and classed inequalities in schools and, ultimately, in the wider U.S. society. She has produced a sophisticated intersectional study of the interplay between stigma, privilege, and power.

Faye V. Harrison, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

Downed by Friendly Fire

Contents
Prelude: Who Has Seen the Headwinds?
Introduction: Violence—by Another Name?
1. Frenemies and Friendly Fire at Underground Railroad High
2. Last Stop on the Underground Railroad, First Stop of Refried Segregation: Setting and Methodology
3. Nadine: Words as Violence and Misrecognition
4. Brittany: She Talks Like a Black Girl
5. Keyshia: The Black Girl’s Two-Step
6. Chloe: Goldilocks, and Girls Who Are Not
7. Ally: Size Matters
Conclusion: Excavating, Resuscitating, and Rehabilitating Violence—by Another Name
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index