The disparities don’t end in school: Black girls, in particular, are also disproportionately vulnerable to extreme poverty and poor access to health care, as well as domestic and sexual violence. And black women are incarcerated at three times the rate of white women, largely over nonviolent drug- or property-related crimes. The criminalization of poverty, trauma, and abuse often starts with school policies that fail to support students and instead penalize them for minor infractions like tardiness or talking back to teachers. Black students are also disproportionally penalized for violating school dress and grooming codes that are inherently racist.
“This is especially true for black girls who have layered on top of that trauma the embedded prejudices and biases about how they are seen,” said Pressley, pointing to the examples of black girls being penalized for “distracting” hair styles, or for wearing “provocative” gym shorts when their white classmates wear the same clothing.
“They are rarely seen as girls, as children,” Pressley said. “Our girls have been completely lost in this conversation of mass incarceration, of criminalization,” she added. “To me, on a very basic level, I’m defending their childhood. I’m defending their girlhood.”
The Department of Education’s Obama-Era Initiative on Racial Disparities in School Discipline: Wrong For Students and Teachers, Wrong on the Law