Black Girls Are Penalized for Protecting Themselves
Black girls often feel unprotected in school settings because they are often punished for defending themselves. Zero-tolerance policies exacerbate their vulnerabilities rather than make them safer because they receive the same punishment as the person bullying them. A report by the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund found that Black girls report widespread sexual harassment in school. According to one survey, 56 percent of school-age girls report experiencing sexual harassment. The same study found that Black students were more likely than white students to “change the way they go to or from schools,” or even change to a new school, in response to sexual harassment. Black girls experience more aggressive forms of harassment than white girls. A 2001 national survey of eighth- through 11th-graders found that 67 percent of Black girls reported being “touched, grabbed, or pinched in a sexual way,” compared to 56 percent of white girls. And 28 percent of Black girls reported being “forced to kiss someone,” compared to 15 percent of white girls. A study of Black female students in St. Louis found that experiencing sexual harassment at school had “tangible negative outcomes … including harmful effects on school performance, the curtailment of social networks, peer rejection, and negative emotional outcomes.”
Teachers Influenced by Negative Stereotypes
Negative perceptions of Black female behavior, informed by stereotypes, lead teachers to assume Black girls require greater social correction and thus lead to increased disciplinary referrals, according to the report by the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. For example, Black girls who are outspoken in class, who use profanity or who confront people in positions of authority — as well as Black girls who are perceived as dressing provocatively — are disproportionately disciplined. Indeed, Black girls are at greater risk than other girls of receiving citations for dress code violations and for talking back to teachers, as well as for much less severe behaviors such as gum chewing, defiance and failure to comply with prior discipline. This forces them into a no-win situation: they either conform to white, middle-class notions of how girls should act and be quiet and passive, which ultimately does not serve girls well in their pursuit of an education; or they speak up and get disciplined for defying those expectations and conforming to educators’ stereotyped expectations for Black girls.