Locked Away: How Black Girlhood Erasure Pushes us Toward Prison
One dreary November morning, when I was in the seventh grade, my classmates and I trekked outside for our daily break in between class change. It was chilly out, but we huddled close together under the breezeway with our overpriced sugary drinks and fried snacks, lamenting over algebra and social studies. A friend of mine who had the newest cellphone at the time began to play a rap song and we all began to dance and rhyme along, most of us careful not to shout out obscenities.
Less than halfway through the song though, we found ourselves met with furious teachers, who quickly confiscated her phone and dragged us inside with 10 minutes left to our break. Later that day, as I was presenting an assignment in my accelerated English class, a note came down from the main office that I needed to meet with the principal. The lightning streak of fear that ran through me as I entered his office turned into a full blown thunderstorm as I sat, number two of 14 black girls who had to retell the story of the day, just to find that his mind had already been made about our punishment. My friend with the phone wouldn’t be getting it back for 15 days. All of us would be suspended for three.
The Center on Poverty and Inequality presented a study on adult’s perceptions of black girls and found that of 325 participants, collectively they viewed black girls as more adult than white. The notion that black girls are more mature becomes a burden on the girls, and not that of the adult who overly sexualize, pressure, ignore the needs of and force stereotypes on children who haven’t begun to form an identity yet. Since the day they enter into the public school system, black girls are seen as mature, overly loud or violent, or dominating where their white counterparts are given the benefit of innocence.
In the Civil Rights Data Collection from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, researchers found that black students are suspended and expelled three times more than their white peers and for black girls, they are suspended at a rate almost 6 times more than white girls. The data also found that “while black students represent 16% of student enrollment, they represent 27% of students referred to law enforcement and 31% of students subjected to a school-related arrest.”
While there are different facilities for juveniles than adults, an arrest can be just as traumatic for a child, such as the young girl from South Carolina who was seen on camera being thrown around her classroom which resulted in a broken arms and bruises, or the six year old taken in handcuffs to police headquarters after having a tantrum. These situations linger in their minds and shape their childhood, as persistent stress and trauma has been proven to lead to behavioral issues.
At the end of ninth grade, my mother moved me to a different school for a stronger, more stable learning environment, but more than a few of my former classmates weren’t all so lucky, and that suspension was just another bullet point in a growing list of minor infractions that led to a couple of them being sent to alternative schools; one dropped out while we were in the eleventh grade.
These harsh punishments for doing things that kids do, handed down like judgements from administrators who don’t even view black bodies as children but grenades and value assimilation and divine obedience rather than understanding what it means to be a black child, only set up our girls to be flushed down the drain to never be retrieved again.