Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Let’s talk about black girls

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Much of our attention has been focused on our young black men, and rightly so, given the propensity in this culture for them to be shot in cold blood, killed and incarcerated. We’ve discussed President Obama’s initiative for young black men, “My Brother’s Keeper.”

However, a new report, issued by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is important for us to pay attention to. Read the full report here.

Barriers Rooted in Race and Gender Bias Harm Educational Outcomes of African American Girls and Must Be Addressed, New Report Shows

Race and gender disparities in opportunity and academic achievement lead to high dropout rates, limited job opportunities, and increased risk of poverty

(Washington, D.C.)  Due to pervasive, systemic barriers in education rooted in racial and gender bias and stereotypes, African American girls are faring worse than the national average for girls on almost every measure of academic achievement, according to a comprehensive report (executive summary) released today by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF). In sharp contrast to reports of the academic success of girls overall, African American girls are more likely than any other group of girls to get poor grades and be held back a grade.

The report, Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls:  A Call to Action for Educational Equity, outlines what are sometimes insurmountable barriers to staying in school and how poor educational outcomes result in limited job opportunities, lower lifetime earnings, and increased risk of economic insecurity for African American women. In 2013, 43 percent of African American women without a high school diploma were living in poverty, compared to nine percent of African American women with at least a bachelor’s degree.

The report examines roadblocks faced by both African American girls and boys-such as under-resourced schools-and emphasizes those that have a distinct impact on African American girls due to the intersection of gender and race stereotypes. These barriers include lack of access to college-and career-preparatory curricula in schools; limited access to athletics and other extracurricular activities; disproportionate and overly punitive disciplinary practices that exclude them from school for minor and subjective infractions, such as dress code violations and wearing natural hairstyles; discrimination against pregnant and parenting students; and pervasive sexual harassment and violence.

“Our educational policies and practices must open the doors of opportunity for all – regardless of race or gender. Only then will we fulfill the promise of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark ruling that invalidated legal segregation in America 60 years ago,” said Sherrilyn A. Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc. “The report’s findings,” Ifill added, “complement the important, ongoing work to improve educational outcomes for boys and men of color and provide additional information about the challenges  facing African American children in education.”  

An example of punitive discipline:

In the 2011-12 school year, 12 percent of all African American female pre-K-12 students were suspended from school, six times the rate of white girls and more than any other group of girls and several groups of boys – despite research showing that African American children do not misbehave more frequently than their peers.  The experience of Tiambrya Jenkins – a 16-year-old high school student in Rome, Georgia – illustrates the impact that overly punitive disciplinary practices can have on African American girls. Two years ago, when Jenkins was a straight-A student in ninth grade with a dream of becoming a nurse, she got into a fight after school with a white female classmate.  Both girls were transferred to an alternative school as punishment.  The white classmate returned to regular school after 90 days, but Jenkins was held at the alternative school for the entire school year.

“It was like being in prison,” said Jenkins.  “The classrooms had no windows.  There was an adult in the room, but there was almost no teaching. We’d just sit around and talk until the bell rang.  A year later, I was finally sent back to my regular school.  But, by then, my classmates were way ahead of me.  Now, I’m flunking math, my favorite class.  I’m slipping further behind day by day and doubt I’ll ever catch up.”

The story was also covered by NPR:

Q&A: The Mis-Education Of African-American Girls

The report shows that African-American girls are doing worse than the national average for girls on almost every measure of academic achievement. Globally, the United Nations has warned that gender inequality in education wastes vital human capital and stifles economic growth. As one of its Millennium Development Goals, the U.N. set an ambitious objective of eliminating the gender gap in education at all levels by 2015.

While reading I thought back to my junior high school experience, when, with 6 other black girls I was bused into a majority white school. All of us were selected to be in a special high achievement program to do three years in two.  

When it came time to audition for New York’s excellent special high schools, those of us who were black, who took off a day from school to audition, were put in detention and give “JD cards” (juvenile delinquency). This didn’t happen to the white students. Only via the intervention of our parents, and the local NAACP branch were our records cleared.

Reading through the report a number of things we’ve discussed in the past stood out:

Stereotypes of African American girls and women date back to slavery – such as the view that African American women are “angry” or “aggressive,” and “promiscuous”

or “hyper-sexualized.” Such racial and gender stereotypes shape educators’ and administrators’ views of African American female students in critically harmful ways.

This implicit bias is rarely discussed or acknowledged, and therefore it goes virtually undetected. But addressing it is essential, as it can lead to the setting of lower

academic expectations for African American girls, significant discipline disparities and a higher rate of referrals to the juvenile justice system, all factors that push African American girls out of school.

We’ve read the reports on black girls being sent home because their hair is different – and dubbed “unacceptable”.

Who can forget Melissa Harris Perry’s message to Tiana Parker.

The report also discusses the very serious issues of sex-trafficking of young black and brown girls right here in the U.S. along with issues of sexual abuse and violence.

It isn’t simply a laundry list of what is wrong.

The report outlines recommendations for policymakers, schools, community members, and philanthropic organizations to improve educational and career outcomes, including the following:

   Invest in early childhood education; reduce disparities in school resources; maintain transparency and accountability for the performance of all students;

   Reduce reliance on overly punitive and exclusionary discipline practices in schools, such as suspensions and expulsions for minor offenses, and promote the use of alternative discipline practices, such as Restorative Justice, that encourage positive behavior and address trauma.  Increase transparency in and accuracy of schools’ annually reported discipline data.

   Increase access to and promote African American girls’ participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) courses;

   Support pregnant students and those who are parents;

   Reduce gender- and race-based bullying, harassment and violence, and train school staff to recognize and address signs of trauma in students;

   Increase access to athletics and other after-school activities and programs;

   Target philanthropic funding to provide social services and support systems that address the needs of African American girls, especially the most vulnerable – those who are low-income, in the child welfare system, victims of child sex trafficking, struggling to complete school, or in the juvenile justice system.

Maybe one day we will be able fulfill the words to this classic song, sung here by Nina Simone:

Young, gifted and black

Oh what a lovely precious dream

To be young, gifted and black

Open your heart to what I mean

In the whole world you know

There was a billion boys and girls

Who are young, gifted and black

And that’s a fact!

You are young, gifted and black

We must begin to tell our young

There’s a world waiting for you

Your’s is the quest that’s just begun

When you feel really low

Yeah, there’s a great truth that you should know

When you’re young, gifted and black

Your soul’s intact

To be young, gifted and black

Oh how I long to know the truth

There are times when I look back

And I am haunted by my youth

Oh but my joy of today

Is that we can all be proud to say

To be young, gifted and black

Is where it’s at

Is where it’s at

Is where it’s at

Cross-posted from Black Kos


  1. I always get itchy when one group or another is singled out for special treatment in educational situations and I admit to being peeved a bit when I hear that black boys needs are placed about other kids needs, black girls, other minorities, girls in general. In a perfect world, there would not be a rationing of educational resources and opportunities so I understand the emphasis. But I still don’t like that we have to make those choices.

    Watching how the media treated, and still treats, Michelle Obama was eye-opening to me. I recall the right-wing freakout that she has strong arms and, goodness knows, strong opinions. And of course, that makes her fit that stereotype you found that “African American women are ‘angry” or ‘aggressive'”, attributes that are unattractive in our culture because women must be submissive and weak.

    Because of Michelle Obama being willing to share herself with us, black girls, actually all girls, now have an excellent role model. Successful in her own right, a wonderful mother, an intelligent educated woman who made good choices, a woman who found a life partner who cares about her.

    I hope that the report (“Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls:  A Call to Action for Educational Equity“) results in real changes and a focus on the value of education for all of our young people.

  2. Diana in NoVa

    It’s disheartening to read about the massive barriers arrayed against black children, especially girls.  Wish there were some way to connect successful women with African-American teenaged girls to inspire and help them.

    Sometimes it’s hard to believe this is the 21st century.

  3. bfitzinAR

    classes of kids who didn’t qualify for special assistance for some reason or other but needed it – the “at risk” population who tends to “fall through the cracks” – of course they did, the crack was as big as the Grand Canyon!  Let’s just say the number of black students in those classes were way out of proportion to their share of the general population.  My principal didn’t particularly like/respect me and he certainly objected to some of my methods but he did grudgingly admit that I was good with the at risk kids, giving them some success in education and keeping them in school.  If I’d only had to deal with the kids, I’d probably be teaching still.

    If Barack Obama did nothing else good for this country, and he has, the absolute dead-level best was to give the kids – male and female – solid role models.  

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