Addressing Female Invisibility in- and outside Schools

“He had a race. I had a gender.” This is how attorney and legal professor Anita Hill describes the media that surrounded her in 1991, as she testified during the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. (See “Anita Hill Film“)

Her remarks seem pertinent today, on National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls and in light of recent findings about the experience of black school girls.

Black Girls Matter

BlackGirlsgraphicA recent study of New York City Schools found that 90 percent of all girls expelled were black and no white girls were expelled. Previously, a lot of attention has been focused on black boys. In fact, here in the District of Columbia, the Mayor seeks to invest $20 million on Empowering Boys of Color, including a new school for boys. But a report published earlier this year – Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected – shows how “existing research, data, and public policy debates often fail to address the degree to which girls face risks that are both similar to and different from those faced by boys.”

Black girls receive harsher discipline compared to white girls at a rate three times as high as the same comparison between discipline for black boys and white boys.

Schools’ failure to intervene in bullying and harassment contributes to girls’ insecurity at school, and many black girls report violence a regular part of their school experiences. In addition, girls often have family obligations which go unrecognized as well as challenges for those who are parenting as teens.

The study offers suggestions, some easy-to-implement and some tougher and it “attempts to highlight the educational, social, and economic factors that funnel Black girls and other girls of color onto pathways to nowhere and render their academic and professional vulnerabilities invisible.”

Invisibility and Its Costs

“This silence about at-risk girls is multidimensional and cross-institutional,” says the study:

The risks that Black and other girls of color confront rarely receive the full attention of researchers, advocates, policy makers, and funders. As a result, many educators, activists, and community members remain underinformed about the consequences of punitive school policies on girls as well as the distinctly gendered dynamics of zero-tolerance environments that limit their educational achievements.
— report, from African American Policy Forum and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia Law School
full report

Just two comments from stakeholder interviews:

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.’

It’s like sexual harassment. Ok, it’s not really sexual
harassment. But you are very uncomfortable. You have to
strip down to the T. . . You basically got to come to school
naked. . . It’s like uncomfortable . . . They got to search you.

It feels like you’re in jail. It’s like they treat you like animals, because they think that’s where you’re going to end up.

BWM521-300x300…which leads us to “National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls.” One key element in this action is to amplify the voices of Black trans and cis women and girls — on the school-to-grave pipeline and more generally. Explore local actions and materials for educators. Also check out #ILoveBlackWomen Week for resources that help us all read, hear, and act alongside Black female voices.

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