New study fills in the gap on African-American girls

Subjective stereotypes often lead teachers and school administrators to over-discipline African-American girls.

by Priscilla Ocen NNPA News Service | 2/23/2015, 2:09 p.m.
Subjective stereotypes often lead teachers and school administrators to over-discipline African-American girls.
Priscilla Ocen

When asked what her teachers think of her and her peers, one black girl responded, “They like, can’t be trusted, or they are loud and rowdy, ghetto, and stuff like that. Ignorant.”

Subjective stereotypes such as these often lead teachers and school administrators to over-discipline black girls. At times these stereotypes push them out of school altogether and onto a path of criminalization and low-income jobs, ultimately creating a lifelong opportunity gap for black women.

“Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected,” a report released recently by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies takes a step toward shedding light on the crisis facing black girls.

Although it is now well known that black men and boys confront racial obstacles throughout American society, there is little awareness of the pressing needs of black women and girls. “Black Girls Matter” begins to fill that gap by examining the impact of punitive disciplinary policies on African American girls in New York City and Boston public schools.

Its findings reveal that black girls and other girls of color experience discriminatory disciplinary policies, and disproportionately high suspension and expulsion rates. Like their male counterparts, black girls are substantially more likely to be subjected to school discipline than their female peers. In fact, the disparity in disciplinary punishments between black girls and white girls is greater than the one between black and white boys in some settings. Across the nation, black girls are six times more likely to be suspended than white girls, whereas black boys are three times more likely to be suspended than white boys.

In New York City during the 2011-2012 school year, 90 percent of the girls expelled were black, and none were white. In Boston, black girls were 10 times more likely to be suspended than their white female counterparts, while black boys were 7.4 times more likely to be suspended than their white peers. So while black boys face higher rates of suspension and expulsion in terms of absolute numbers, black girls in some contexts face a greater racialized risk.

Alarming statistics such as these highlight the need for the inclusion of girls of color in the discourse around racial justice. They make it clear that both African American boys and girls confront serious racial barriers, including failing schools, unwarranted forms of criminalization, and impoverished communities. Moreover, compared to all girls, Black girls have the worst rates of suspension, juvenile detention and homicide; and the gender-specific ways in which they experience sexual harassment, pregnancy and other familial burdens are seldom focused upon in the quest for racial justice. Our report, “Black Girls Matter,” reverses this silence by amplifying the voices of girls regarding their experiences in school.

One girl interviewed recalled being expelled from school when she was arrested at 16-years-old. Following the expulsion, she was out of school for two years. Another remembered when a father went to his daughter’s teachers because another student was sexually harassing her. But instead of stepping in to protect the girl, the teachers’ response was, “good, take her out, she attracts too much attention from our boys.”