If I say “school-to-prison pipeline,” you may think of the criminalization of African-American boys, almost always for behavior that would merit their white counterparts at most detention. But what about the girls? Just as racist police brutality does not give a pass to black women, so too does the school-to-prison pipeline operate for black girls as well. First, some statistics. According to Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected, BY Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw with Priscilla Ocen and Jyoti Nanda, a report issued by the African-American Policy Forum and the Center for Intersectionality and Policy Studies at the Columbia Law School, in the 2011-2012 school year in NYC:
Black girls were suspended six times as often as white girls, with 12% of black girls being suspended in a given year.
There about twice as many black girls enrolled in public school as white girls, but they are disciplined ten times as often.
90% of expulsions of girls were of black girls. 90%! Not one white girl was expelled that year. (This strongly suggests to me that schools do not value black girls as students.)
“Black girls receive more severe sentences when they enter the juvenile justice system than do members of any other group of girls, and they are also the fastest growing population in the system” Crenshaw, Ocen, and Nanda write. So when teachers and schools fail to value black girls, punish them unreasonably for minor offenses (Crenshaw’s report opens with several pretty appalling examples), and in other ways discourage them from attending school or devalue the education they get, they are putting them at risk for criminal detention in a legal system that is all too happy to keep them. And as for young men, when young women leave school without a high school diploma, they are far more likely to find themselves stuck in low-wage work with very few routes for advancement.
The entire report is worth reading. Some of the appalling miscarriages of justice described are of a piece with what we know affects black boys as well: zero-tolerance policies that lead to expulsions for carrying nail clippers, for instance, and schools focused far more on discipline and high-stakes testing than education. But much of what Crenshaw writes about is gendered: girls experience metal detectors and searches on their way into school as akin to sexual harassment, as feeling “naked” in front of authority figures; girls who act out are punished to a far greater extent than boys who act out in the same way; boys’ sexual harassment of girls is overlooked while the girls’ responses are punished heavily; sexual abuse and other interpersonal violence is an incredibly strong predictor of girls’ involvement with school disciplinary procedures, and is also a significant reason for girls’ leaving school. And family care-taking responsibilities, including children and older family members, fall far more heavily on the shoulders of black girls than on their male counterparts.
I started collecting sources for this post back in April, and the interruption to my blogging has taken its toll; this topic deserves a far more thoughtful piece. But the perfect is the enemy of better-than-my-silence on this issue, and this site of oppression, at the intersection of race and gender and all too frequently, disability, needs to be a topic of discussion among feminists.
Particularly white feminists, because there’s another side to this issue. The side with the active voice. Black girls are suspended, are expelled, are disciplined. But who is it who’s suspending, expelling, and otherwise pushing these girls away from education and toward the criminal “justice” system? Mikki Kendall notes in this interview that “80% of teachers are white and mostly women.” Who is waging this war on black children, boys and girls? Principals, sure, but the teachers on the frontlines are mostly white women. This is a situation where white women are enforcing race and gender norms at the expense of black girls. I have not been able to get my hands on Kendall’s piece about this for Bitch Planet (I keep trying to buy the issue digitally, it keeps not working) but I’d bet solid money that what she has to say is worth reading. I’m going to try and order it from my local comic shop. I’d welcome comments from, well, everybody, obviously, but if anybody has read it, I’d be particularly interested to hear about it.