Black females represent the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice population. Black females also experienced the most dramatic rise in middle school suspension rates in recent years. Six-year old girls have been arrested in Georgia and Florida for having a tantrum in class.
A 13-year old girl near Chicago was charged with a felony theft offense after finding her teacher’s glasses and seeking to return them to her, and a Los Angeles High School girl was slammed to the floor of her school and arrested after dropping a piece of cake on the floor.
From these and other incidents in recent years, it has become increasingly clear that punitive disciplinary practices and other criminalizing policies that fuel what we understand as a “school to prison pipeline” impact the girls as well as the boys.
However, a deeper look reveals that perhaps the “pipeline” analogy is too linear a framework to capture the education-system pathways to incarceration for black girls. In discussions with young women who have dropped out of school, or who are attempting to return to school following a period of incarceration, it is becoming clearer that we must think about the multiple ways in which racism and patriarchy marginalize black girls in their learning environments. These places have become hostile learning environments for girls who are too frequently marginalized for acts of “defiance” or for being too “loud” and aggressive in ways that make them nonconforming to society’s gender expectations.
For too many black girls, schools are places where they are subject to unwanted sexual harassment, where they are judged and punished for who they are, not necessarily for what they have done, and where their experiences have been overshadowed by a male-dominated discourse on dignity in schools.