“Got right in front of my school, the long line for the metal detector. It was early too, so I was proud of that. But then I thought about it like, ‘Oh God. I got to take off my clothes. Take my phone. I can’t hide it.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not. I don’t feel up to this.’”
– From Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected
It’s Black History Month! This means we’re now in the time of year that our schools tend to turn their attention to honoring the legacy of African Americans by teaching students the names of pioneering inventors, politicians, and famous athletes. However, in Carter G. Woodson’s vision of a dedicated time during which to unlock the “miseducation” of Black people –and all Americans—was something much more significant. The intent of Black History Month (formerly Negro History Week)—and why it is so important today—was to interrogate the distortions of the lived experiences of Black people, and to acknowledge that we must continue to explore the meaning of freedom and equal justice if we are to truly become equal participants in this democracy.
This is what the African American Policy Forum, in partnership with the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia University have done in their new report, “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected.” Building on the momentum of the recent report by the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP-LDF, and other ongoing discourses and data collected about the conditions of Black girls and young women, this report further lifts the veil on popular distortions about the experiences of Black and Latina girls in schools and examines how they are disproportionately negatively harmed by instruments of surveillance, punitive school discipline policies, and a popular culture of violence against women and girls that has rendered them vulnerable to school pushout. Using Boston and New York City as case studies, the report documents how Black girls are unequivocally worthy of our investment, and why it is imperative that for the sake of legitimacy, our racial justice movements become more gender-inclusive.
This is a concept that is not lost on the lead authors of the report, who wrote, “This modest but long-overdue effort to cast light onto the lives of marginalized girls should be replicated and expanded across the nation…We are especially hopeful that ongoing efforts to resolve the crisis facing boys of color will open up opportunities to examine the challenges facing their female counterparts.”
The report highlights many of the statistics that have been widely discussed, including the fact that racial disparities are more pronounced among girls than they are among boys—showing in graphic terms that Black girls are 6 times more likely than White girls to be suspended, while Black boys are 3 times more likely to be suspended than White boys. However, from the narratives and quotes included in the report, there emerge a series of important reflections regarding the nature of the problem—some of which have yet to surface in the public domain in any rigorous way. These include the following observations:
- Zero-tolerance schools are described as chaotic environments in which discipline is prioritized over educational attainment;
- The increase of law enforcement, security personnel (and other instruments of surveillance, I would add) within schools sometimes make girls feel less safe and therefore less likely to attend school;
- Girls are often burdened with familial obligations that undermine their capacity to focus on school and achieve their academic goals.
These themes, when coupled with original quotes from girls, demonstrate the urgency of including Black girls in our national discourses on school discipline reform and in our efforts to develop culturally competent and gender-responsive approaches that ensure the safety of all of our children in schools.
This is the challenge—it’s real; and it’s urgent.
Monique W. Morris, Ed.D. is a social justice scholar, and author of Black Stats: African Americans by the Numbers in the Twenty-First Century and a forthcoming book on the criminalization of Black girls in schools. Follow Dr. Morris on Twitter @MoniqueWMorris.