Did you know that Black girls are often steered away from rigorous math and science courses in high school, which has later repercussions on their experiences in college and beyond? Or that, compared to White girls, Black girls receive less support from teachers to engage in physical activity? And that Black girls are suspended from school at a rate that is six times higher than their White female counterparts?
These statistics are included as part of a compelling new report, Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls, released last week by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF). The report presents a powerful description of the conditions affecting the learning and economic opportunities of Black girls and young women, offering not just a snapshot of current conditions, but a discussion of how Black women and girls have shaped the nation’s commitment to equal educational opportunity for all children.
Black women are often thought to be “fine” in our dominant discourses on education. However, this report suggests that our communities need to pull back the layers a bit more to uncover the discrimination, bias, and victimization that plague the learning environment for too many Black girls in American schools. For example:
-Only 42% of Black girls participate in school sports, compared to 58% of their White female counterparts.
-Black girls represent less than 17% of all female students, but they are 31% of girls referred to law enforcement and about 43% of girls with a school-related arrest.
-67% of Black girls in 8th-11th grade report being “touched, grabbed or pinched in a sexual way,” compared to 56% of White girls, and 28% of Black girls report being “forced to kiss someone,” compared to 15% of White girls.
These and other statistics are enveloped in a collection of narratives that demonstrate the urgency of our need to invest in the wellbeing of our girls. The report anchors its call to action on behalf of Black girls to the landmark Supreme Court decision on Brown v. Board of Education, and discusses how policymakers, schools, parents, and community stakeholders can reduce the academic marginalization experienced by many of our young girls. The report outlines a series of recommendations—including a call for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate the impact of school disciplinary practices on girls of color and to provide girls with culturally competent and trauma-sensitive learning programs that provide them with the tools they need to survive and navigate conflict. Most importantly, the recommendations detailed in the report provide a foundation for an organized response to the trauma and victimization affecting the healthy development of our girls—in and out of their learning spaces.
While Black women and girls have been historically at the forefront of our nation’s discourses on civil rights and equal access to education, unfortunately, our communities have been less responsive to their unique burdens. This is inexcusable.
While we still need data to help us better understand how our girls are affected by school-based policies and practices that criminalize them and/or place them at risk of victimization, we can no longer claim that we don’t have enough data to support a critical investment in their wellbeing. In a previous article that I wrote on the elements that I feel are important to a potential "My Sister’s Keeper" initiative, I mentioned that it is important that our racial justice agenda be inclusive of the specific needs of Black women and girls. Again, I will note that our girls and boys are sharing communities, institutions, homes, and lives with each other. Therefore, an effort to support females of color—whether or not they have given birth to a male or are intimately partnered with one—is important to the successful navigation of conditions that place whole communities at risk. The call to action is an urgent request to unlock the potential for our intentional and rigorous inclusion of girls as a critical part of our racial justice agenda.
No more excuses.
Monique W. Morris, Ed.D. is a social justice scholar, 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.