#BlackGirlsMatter: When Girls of Color Are Policed Out of School

Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 1.29.50 PMLast year, 12-year-old Mikia Hutchings was faced with expulsion from her Georgia middle school and possible felony charges by the local sheriff’s department.

Her crime: writing the word “hi” on a locker room wall.

Her white friend graffiti’d even more words on the wall, yet the school handled their punishments quite differently. Mikia’s friend paid $100 in fines to the school and was suspended for a few days, but since Mikia’s grandmother couldn’t afford to pay the fine, the girl had to attend a disciplinary hearing with school administrators, spend a summer on probation and complete 16 hours of community service.

Her family has now filed a complaint with the Department of Justice, citing a violation of the Civil Rights Act.

Stories like Mikia’s are not uncommon.

A pioneering study just released by the African American Policy Forum and Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Policy Studies shows that, when it comes to doling out punishments, school administrations are way harder on black girls than their white counterparts. Titled Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected [pdf], the study delves into the blatant racial disparities that result in black girls being more likely to fall behind in their education.

Black feminist law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, the lead author of the study, said in a statement:

As public concern mounts for the needs of men and boys of color through initiatives like the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper, we must challenge the assumption that the lives of girls and women—who are often left out of the national conversation—are not also at risk.

The study reveals many alarming statistics on how overpolicing and “zero-tolerance” policies lead to girls of color dropping out, going into low-wage work and, in some cases, ending up incarcerated.

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As the chart above shows, black girls are suspended at a rate six times that of white girls (black boys are suspended three times more than white boys). The gap becomes even wider in the public school systems of major cities: In New York, black girls are suspended at 10 times the rate of white girls, while in Boston they’re suspended 11 times more. When it comes to expulsion, black girls in New York were expelled 53 times more than white girls and in Boston, 10 times more.

In the study, young girls of color often saw their zero-tolerance schools as “chaotic environments in which discipline is prioritized over educational attainment.” They were more likely to become detached from their education and less likely to earn a high school diploma.

In conjunction with the release of the study, the AAPF hosted a webinar on the criminalization of girls of color that had #BlackGirlsMatter and #WhyWeCantWait trending on social media Wednesday.

Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 1.33.48 PMScreen shot 2015-02-05 at 1.40.06 PM Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 1.34.13 PMIn their recommendations, the study’s authors address the dearth of research and advocacy surrounding black girls, and they urge schools to question punitive policies that ultimately lead to the detriment of black girls, their families and their communities. Policies should let black girls know that they belong in school, not out of it.

 Photos courtesy of the Black Girls Matter press kit

 

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Anita Little is the associate editor at Ms. magazine. Follow her on Twitter.

Comments

  1. I’m sorry but I don’t see how Mikia’s ordeal has anything to do with race. It would have if the white girl’s family hadn’t been fined, or if the judge offered them a payment plan, or something along those lines. But the article says that both girls were suspended “for a few days” and both were ordered to pay a $100 fine. The difference is that Mikia’s family was unable to pay, and she had to go through the juvenile hearing and community service in lieu of that. Does the accusation of racism stem from the fact that Mikia’s white friend wrote more of the graffiti than she herself did? I’m sorry, but that’s stupid, and I would never expect any school official to care about that. From the school’s perspective, they BOTH were caught writing graffiti, so they were BOTH punished. …Were they being fined per letter? It frankly doesn’t matter that one girl wrote more than the other one did. The further information from the African American Policy Forum study is troubling, but again I don’t think it has anything to do with this.
    We all had that one friend (or sibling) who was like, “Go on, don’t be a baby! Just do it!’ And the minute we caved in was the same minute our parent/teacher burst in the door yelling, “WHAT’S GOING ON IN HERE!?” If anything, Mikia needs some better friends. : (
    On another note…STUPIDEST PUNISHMENT EVER. A fine punishes the parents/guardians more than the kids. And suspending them? Yes, let’s kick them out of school so they miss lessons and have to struggle to keep up for the next month. That’s certain to make them like school more. SMH give both of them some buckets of soapy water and sponges and make them clean it off, then make them write essays about why it’s important to take pride in their school and present them in front of their classmates…and yes I mean BOTH girls should do it.

    • I am sorry but Mikia’s punishment was much harder than her friend’s. Her friend just got suspended for a few days whereas Mikia was on probation for two month, as if she just got out from jail. For me the difference is obvious..

      • Yes, her treatment did wind up being much different. But this change happened AFTER her family couldn’t (or wouldn’t?) pay the fine, not because of her race: “Even more of a surprise was the penalty after her family disputed the role she was accused of playing in the vandalism and said it could not pay about $100 in restitution…” And just below that paragraph is this: “Her friend, who is white, was let go after her parents paid restitution.”
        I’m sorry, but you can’t just NOT pay a fine. I mean, if there was ever a time that the court system cared LESS about race it’s when people are trying to get out of paying them money. Mikia’s ordeal would never have happened if her family had just paid up. It was their decision not to do so, but it was naive of them to think there would be no alternative consequences.

        • hello i am a cat says:

          This has to do with both classism AND racism, two terrible flavors that are even more terrible together.

          My parents wouldn’t be able to pay the fine either. I grew up poor, and I know how bullshit fines hurt my education. It’s stuff like this that puts poor students at a disadvantage and it’s why we get worse grades. Wealthier kids can get out of punishment and go to more field trips and get more school supplies, while we poor kids were often kicked down and neglected by the public school system.

          I’m white, but I understand stuff like this gets even worse when you are both poor and black.

    • Destiny DeJesus says:

      Hey,

      My name is Destiny, I am the Production Coordinator for Manhattan Neighborhood Network’s Youth Channel. We work in Harlem with youth of the community covering social justice issues. Two of our Senior Producers are producing a show called Connecting Voices. The topic is girls of color being pushed out of schools. Wondering if you’d like to stay in contact. We’d love to hear your perspective on this issue. Feel free to contact me at destinydejesus@mnn.org

  2. You know when white supermacy is excersised by white america when they make comments like…’I don’t see what Mikia’s race has to do with anything’.

  3. What i don’t understand is why there is a fine in addition to the suspension. And why suspend a student…that’s often what’s wanted…haven’t you ever heard of in-school suspension. I’m a teacher i. Australia, and this is often what we do at my school. A student msbehaves and wants to ge duslended, so we give then an in-school suspension, with school work to do.

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