America Is Punishing Black Girls for Doing the Things White Girls Do All the Time


#BlackLivesMatter, especially in America's schools.

However, a piece published this week in the New York Times demonstrates how black lives continue to be dismissed at a systemic level, beginning with our public school system, when many children first enter the social world and mix among peers of all colors. 

According to data pulled from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, black school girls are punished at exponentially greater and harsher rates than their white peers. "From 2011 to 2012, black girls in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide were suspended at a rate of 12%, compared with a rate of just 2% for white girls, and more than girls of any other race or ethnicity," noted the New York Times' Tanzina Vega.

This data holds true nationwide. But take the state of Ohio as an example, where black girls face 11 times the out-of-school suspension rate of their white counterparts:


Both racism and sexism lie at the heart of this disparity. As the National Women's Law Center explains in a 2014 report, negative stereotypes of black women — as aggressive and hyper-sexual — greatly influence how black girls are treated in schools. "For example, African-American girls who are outspoken in class, who use profanity or who confront people in positions of authority, as well as African-American girls who are perceived as dressing provocatively, are disproportionately disciplined," the report authors wrote. "Indeed, African-American girls are at greater risk than other girls of receiving citations for dress code violations and for talking back to teachers, as well as for much less severe behaviors such as gum chewing, defiance and failure to comply with prior discipline." 

While the policing of black school girls is comparable to black school boys, gender comes into play when you look at what the students are being punished for. As the New York Times observes, "Researchers say black girls tend to be penalized more subjectively, like for having a bad attitude or being defiant."

The criminalization of black bodies begins in preschool: The racialization of school punishment is statistically evident in schools as early as preschool, whereby "black students make up 18% of preschool enrollment, but they comprise 48% of preschool students receiving more than one suspension out of school," according to the Huffington Post's Joy Resmovits. The noticeable correlation between the punishment of black school girls and the number of incarcerated black women indicates that racism operates across systems — or that America's education system is just another form of prison:

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Access to education is key to improving the lives of black women and girls, making it imperative that large-scale changes be implemented to remove any racist practices that hinder their path to success. "The message we send when we suspend or expel any student is that that student is not worthy of being in the school," the DOE's assistant secretary for civil rights, Catherine E. Lhamon, told the New York Times. "That is a pretty ugly message to internalize and very, very difficult to get past as part of an educational career."