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A Concerned Mother Asks ‘Who’s Looking Out for Black Girls?’ As Her Daughter Is Punished for Questioning White Supremacy in School

Disciplinary bias against Black students

Jackie Stewart sits outside the principal’s office at her daughter Mariah’s school for the fourth time since school began on August 27. It is only the end of September.  A look of annoyance crosses her face as she expresses concern for her child.

“This is ridiculous, Mariah is not a troublemaker. I have never been called to her school in years past for a behavior issue.  The only calls I ever got were praising her brilliance.  Mariah is an impeccable student, intelligent, active in extracurriculars, I don’t know what is going on this year.”  She shakes her head and says to no one in particular. “Let me change that, I know what is going on this year. It’s that teacher.  She’s the only one Mariah is having a problem with and the one behind all these suspensions.”

Stewart is speaking about the challenges Mariah has been having in history, a subject she once loved and even considered studying in college. Until this year. This year, her first in high school, Mariah has been dissatisfied with the approach her history teacher has taken to explaining events in Black history.

So far, Mariah has been suspended three times for what the school defined as “disobedient and disruptive behavior.”  When asked specifics about Mariah’s actions, Stewart—a history professor at a local college—calmly states, “she challenged her teacher on the tenets of white supremacy.”

Not militant, by her own admission, Stewart, as a scholar of history— specifically African-American history and culture—has spent her entire career and efforts as a parent teaching the past in context.  She believes that much of what is deemed as problematic when it comes to educating Black and brown children lies in how negatively their experience is presented to them.

“Our past, as presented, is shrouded in pain,” she says. “They never discuss our triumphs as the the catalyst for change.  We are only told that our people are motivated by tragedy and that is just incorrect.  Our children are often taught through this distorted lens of history that bends to the myth of complacency among the oppressed.  I wanted Mariah to know different, to know the truth of who she was and where she came from.  I wanted Mariah to know herself.  She does and she is not afraid to speak her truth. For many, particularly white female teachers, that is a scary thing —- a Black woman who knows herself.”

What Mariah challenged was very easily fact-checked in a number of sources.  Her teacher allegedly proclaimed Dr. Martin Luther King initiated the modern civil rights movement.  Mariah fervently disagreed and informed her teacher and her classmates what she had learned from reading countless books in her home on the subject, that the movement was organic and born out of many catalytic events leading to a groundswell of grassroots activism.  Her teacher, Stewart says, like the majority of teachers of Black and brown children was a white, Ivy-league educated female who not only was unappreciative of such a public challenge, she was “unprepared for it.”  Mariah was instructed that if she took issue with the lesson as it was being taught should reserve her concern for after class.

Mariah did not not back down.

She openly countered that suggestion by telling her teacher, “but you are giving us misinformation as fact.”  This was the statement that got Mariah sent to the principal’s office and suspended for the first time.  School had only been in session for a week.

Two similar incidents followed.  One was about her teacher refusing to refer to what happened to Native Americans as genocide and challenging the notion that the only remaining Native Americans in the United States were on reservations, a fact Mariah knew to be both untrue and prejudicial.  The other was in regard to a discussion on women’s suffrage where Mariah emphatically disagreed that when women were granted the right to vote it included Black women and that the the Voting Rights Acts, which came 45 years later, was made possible by white women and not the deaths of Black children.

The elder Stewart stressed how these virulent exchanges would impact Mariah’s academic future.

“I was warned that one more suspension and Mariah would be removed from that class and put into one where the teacher was better equipped to manage students with behavior issues,” she says. “Mariah doesn’t have behavior issues, she just knows better.  They have issues with a Black child who knows more than they do.  They don’t know how to teach her so they just try to get rid of her, get rid of the problem.”

Stewart is right.

While most of our attention as a community is focused on the predicament of Black boys in public schools and the “school-to-prison pipeline,” little focus is given to Black girls.  While Black women are leading all groups in college enrollment, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, African-American girls are six times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts for minor infractions such as “disobedient and disruptive behavior,” like Mariah was.  This is in direct contrast to Black boys who are who are at least three times more likely to be suspended for these minor infractions than white boys for the same behavior.  Such policies designated “zero tolerance” punish children of color severely and criminalize them unnecessarily, setting up this current cycle of pushing children out of school and into the criminal justice system.  

For the most part, research has looked specifically at the effect of the school-to-prison pipeline on Black and Latino boys.  To remedy the effect of such occurrences, programs like My Brothers Keeper, the various Black Male Engagement programs funded by the Knight Foundation and others find ways in which to demonstrate the assets Black men bring to society and foster nurturing environments through which they can find brotherhood and encouragement to overcome great obstacles.  As a whole, these large umbrella programs do not exist for Black girls, yet.  There is a slight indication that they may, however, in the very near future.

In his address to the Congressional Black Caucus on September 19, President Obama acknowledged the achievements and determination of Black women like his wife and daughters.

“I want them to know how much we appreciate them, how much we admire them, how much we love them,” he said.

President Obama also acknowledged the lack of policies aimed directly at improving life outcomes for Black women. He declared a need for greater focus on raising the minimum wage to help Black women, who are more likely to be relegated to low-wage jobs, to reduce health disparities, incarceration rates for Black women, and ending what he called the “sinister sexual abuse to prison pipeline.”

President Obama’s desire to close this gap is admirable but comes at a time where his influence will be duly limited. African-American women voted for President Obama at a rate of 70 percent according to the Washington Post.  With less than 15 months left in his presidency, some women, like Jackie Stewart and her daughter Mariah, wonder if it is too little too late.

“I am sure his heart is in the right place, but where was the support for girls like Mariah when he pushed My Brother’s Keeper through?” she asks. “Where was My Sister’s Keeper? Who is looking out for Black girls because they are struggling, too.”

*Jackie and Mariah Stewart’s names have been changed to protect their identity

What people are saying

44 thoughts on “A Concerned Mother Asks ‘Who’s Looking Out for Black Girls?’ As Her Daughter Is Punished for Questioning White Supremacy in School

  1. Ella Harris says:

    Good for mama and daughter! I would love to see a follow-up article.

  2. i am very proud of mariah and her mother. mariah's education is increasingly important as they actively seek to change their dirty, filthy, history when it comes to people of color. good job, mother.

  3. I had two girls and one boy who went through this back in the 60's and the 70's. We are Catholic and it started when, as small children, they removed their smilely faces the nuns pinned to their clothes and finding the brown crayons, colored the faces and pinned them back on. The nuns called us to complain that our kids were not cooperating and we said, "Yes they are. Are they not white complexioned, then they have a right to show who they really are without feeling that there is something wrong with having GOD'S great brown color in their skins. She shut her mouth. That was the beginning of our parental involvement in the continuing education of our children at school. We did not use the excuse of being working parents to excuse our involvement into what was being taught to our children. We knew always what the lessons were and when we had a conflict of interest, we even supplied our kids teachers with materials from the Library and we spent our own money at the Teachers Supply stores on posters and other things that put history in perspective. We believed whites need to get it right,too. Our children even chose HBCUs to attend undergrad school and were more than ready to get grad degrees from top 10 white schools. It worked well. They are proud and well-rounded, one having her degree from The Wharton School of Business, the son with his degree from The Ohio StateU. in law and the the third , our daughter with a degree in Physical Chemistry as a PhD from Northwestern. We invested our kids in being from the brilliant people of Africa so they would know that we were smart from before the times of ancient Egypt.

  4. If they have problem with Marian ask these questions it is time for black parents send their to black private charter school.

  5. this is why its sooo important for Black people to fund and start their own schools. I'm trying to get one started in my area (northern cali)

  6. Laura Nicole says:

    One more suspension and they'll change her class? What? That should have happened a while ago. What action is being towards the teacher? Seems she needs to learn an alternative coping method.

  7. It's called demoriluzation.

  8. Great job mom and you too , Mariah

  9. Lisa Crowe says:

    There needs to be a serious push for education reform on many levels in this country, as it's long over due. The bottom line is that more people today are educated; and as a result are armed with facts. Simply, nowadays information is being shared in leapes and bounds worldwide, as people are nolonger susceptable to believe blindly without question what they are told. So there will be ongoing challenges on many levels concerning the sciences and history. Moreoer, society today has access to reliable resources and credible information. History must be rewritten to reflect fact, and when armed with accurate information the reader can interperet that fact adequately/objectively. But although it's important to question, it's equally important to overstand how to question appropriately not defensively, especially when dealing with an authority figure. So,it's important to not be a distraction in the classroom and show respect. A person's approach can a make a hughe differance in situaitons like this. So althogh this young lady is armed with superior knowlege she must also be armed with tact, espcially in an educational setting. Now in all fairness, we don't know if she's on that level…. So the poweres that be must inform her. My Grannie said it best, "It's not what you do, but how you do it that matters."

  10. This mother doing the right thing to look out for her daughter. If she does not no one else will. The daughter is a very smart and observant young lady.

  11. This is the penalty for not schooling our own children.

  12. Ila Blake says:

    I am a granny an i had the same problem in elementary school, college,grad school and post grad. How do you change a historically established evil?

  13. Carol Dixon says:

    Keep us posted. This may call for a petition, I am in.

  14. Nina Ross says:

    Good for them! I hope they stay strong because it's an uphill battle, but a good one. *may the force be with you*

  15. Mariah and mom are doing the right thing! God bless you both!

  16. Great parent, great child, racist school. Time to find a new school. Once the suspensions begin, the chess match for your child's future is over. Those suspensions mark you for future suspensions and hurt your chances of being accepted at a new school.

  17. I APPLAUD THIS YOUNG GIRL FOR HER BRAVERY AND INTELLIGENCE..GREATNESS IS WITHIN HER.MAY GOD GRANT HER GOOD SUCCESS IN EVERYTHING SHE DOES..MAY SHE BECOME THE FIRST FEMALE BLACK PRESIDENT..BLACK WOMEN ARE MORE THAN LIPS.. HIPS..AND FINGERTIPS..USE HER LORD IN A MIGHTY WAY

  18. Norman Dowe says:

    Another title for the article could be, "Who is concerned about truth?". As I read the article, the primary issue that was raised was not the poor treatment of Black girls, it was the steadfast insistence of the teacher and the school to acknowledge truth. The Bible states that Satan is the father of lies. If we embrace a lie, we are playing into his hand. This is very easy to see when the lie come out of the mouth of someone else, especially if we would not consder them sympathetic to our point of view. However, we need to be advocates of truth at all times.

    As a Black Christian, I am continually assaulted with myths from conscious Blacks that Christianity has been primarily a tool of oppression with regards to Blacks. It supposedly was used that way in colonial Africa and in pre-Civil War United States. For them, either a spirituality without a personal god or Islam is the way for a Black man to go. The inconvenient truth is that before Islam conquered North Africa, Christianity was the dominant religion there, a thousand years before European colonialism really kicked off. The inconvenient truth is that the attempts by colonial authorities to spread Christianity as a tool of colonialism failed but Christianity was propogated in West Africa as the result of large number of African Americans (1,700+) that settled in Sierra Leone after the American Revolution. The inconvenient truth is that the faith of our fathers was not the docile acquiescence the masters desired, but a liberating, empowering and sustaining faith. Demark Vesey, an early pastor of Emmanuel AME in Charleston, was not executed because of his docile faith

    Support our girls, support our girls, but, most of all, support the truth.

  19. Charter schools are a start for sure…

  20. Anne Roberts says:

    What's truly a sad commentary is that there is a wealth of information out here in the real world that completely contradicts that teacher and supports the young girl. As long as American history is whitewashed, we will suffer the consequences of the homegrown ignorance that Courtland Milloy, a Washington Post columnist, has warned us would be more dangerous for this country than any attacks from without.

  21. Ann Cordis says:

    I would love to have a child like her in my classroom. The ACLU needs to get in on this one.

  22. Angela Hollingsworth , Charter school are governed by the public education system, so there is really is no difference. Earlier this year three African American teachers left Howard University Middle School, because they were being harrassed by the school's African American principal for teaching African American History!

  23. Lynda Bowlin says:

    AND get her facts straight!

  24. Bess Hubbard says:

    I would love to see the NAACP legal defense and education fund take up their cause and sue the school district, demanding the suspensions be removed from her record, and investigate the history curriculum, and get on the horn to the new Secretary of Ed.

  25. I really hate the school system. I wonder how many of my troubles in school were because I was too smart (and too bored), and not being challenged in the right ways.

    This girl is a hero…. Standing up for the truth in history. Schools are too terrified to teach the harsh, bloody, sickening reality that our country/world was formed and established under. Why? So that status quo can remain, and to punish any resistance to that status quo, in hopes that it will deter, or at least delay any change to that status quo.

    It poisoned me for a time, and made me think that why couldn't we as whites send blacks back the nations that we stole them from, and help them reconnect with their surviving African relatives? I realized at some point, that is a terribly misguided way of thinking, even if my intentions (which were to rectify the horribleness of whites stealing and forcing blacks to become slaves.) were good.

    We need more than just programs to protect this brave girl, we need to really stop teaching that "Yeah, bad stuff happened, but in the end it all worked out, and everything is perfectly fine now."… because it's not fine… and the bad stuff is way freaking worse that they way they paint (whitewash) it to be.

    But.. "Oh NO! We can't do that, we can't expose our children to such a violent/bloody history, because then they'll become numb to violence, will increase juvenile and young adult crime. We must protect our children's eyes, ears, and mouths from seeing, hearing, or speaking of such things.", which is total and utter bullshit. Teaching kids the REAL truth about our past will not increase crime, in fact, if taught correctly in its proper context, it will not only decrease crime, it will make a world that is more sensitive, less prone to racism, sexism, and overall a better world. It will break the status quo… and that's what they are afraid of…. losing their power and position that the status quo affords them.

  26. While that seems like a really good idea, take care that you don't go back. and start to re-segregate. We need better schools for ALL children, so crap like this doesn't happen to future generations.

  27. It sounds like people need to band together and talk to their School Board and the local Department of Education. Informed people need to find some appropriate books for teachers to use in the classroom. You're right, the teachers are probably clueless and just robotically spurting out what they've been taught themselves. Teachers are mandated to cover certain topics. Lots of white people are home schooling their kids b/c they don't agree with what is being taught either.

  28. If a child is being treated like this, the parent needs to take her out of the school and either home school her or enrolll her in community college. After that the parent needs tonsue the school. Its unacceptable to suspend a girl for challenging the teacher on history facts.

  29. Alex Davis says:

    I agree with you 120%! Your statements suggest, that there are other ways to address "Lies". But, sometimes people have hidden agendas. These "hidden agendas" betray the best of US. Schools should be better, by all means. And, the first place to start? Is better "Students" and not the Trash we see. Its hard, to have a proper environment for discussion. When you are forced to teach "Trash". That statement, includes students and subjects!

  30. Alex Davis says:

    I don't speak the "Language of Ignorance"? Which is "Race"! However, the Law provides a review of all curriculums. If, you don't agree with said? Choose a different school. If, schools weren't so tied to "Textbooks"? They could open up their curriculums. Thereby, allowing all students, to read a multiplicity of books on all subjects. But, "Indoctrination" is different from "Education"! enjoy…the "Plantation"

  31. Providence Destiny How can you have such reverence for a religion which was forced upon your people and from which the whole notion of racisim was born by the Curse of Ham?

  32. Chrissy Burgell lol, Chrissy, Black peoples knew of the Messiah long before the so-called European. We are Adam. We are Eve. We are Miriam. We are Yashua. We are the 12 tribes. We are also Hamites. We are Japheth too. We are Noah. A Black Ham cannot be the offspring of a White Noah. White people don't pop up in the Bible until looong after those pyramids were built by Black Hamites. Or long after the nation of Israel was established by the Most High himself, removing the disobedient Black Canaanites (Hamites) and replacing them with the amalgam Hamito-Shemetic 12 tribes of Israel, or Hebrews (Black Shemites). Whites (mutated Black Japheth from the Black Dravidians) don't show up until the New Testament. These are the ancestors of the modern Greeks and Romans, who were largely quadroo/octoroons in Biblical times. You see, WE had the Bible and unlike the vast majority of white people, we have the RUACH to properly interpret the Bible, b/c it was given to US Blacks (Hebrews in particular) first. Notice I did NOT say "Jews", I said HEBREWS. There's a difference as it relates to todays current affairs. The so-called "christianity" that was exported around the world by the white Romans via Constantine circa 313 AD is NOT in the Bible.Pick up any Bible and you'll see that. The Bible doesn't condone Christimas, Easter/Ishtar, Sunday as a holy day, nor CHATTEL slavery or the so-called curse of ham, only a white man would channel such evil to interpret and pervert our holy Bible in that way. Domination, subjugation, oppression via racism and white supremacy is the white man's religion. I know the Bible and its actually not a white man's book, religion nor his history. IT IS OURS. All 3 Abrahamic so-called religions are. Google the absolute earliest images (not that renaissance era crap) depiction of the HEbrews and other peoples of the Bible. ALL BLACK PEOPLE.

  33. Jairo Muñoz Do you call yourself a shill, or a troll. Are you ashamed as you should be?

  34. Great good heavens! What a preposterous situation!Valerie Anthony

  35. School System still teaching what they taught 70 years ago. Times have changed they need to change. Teach them kids what they can get a job in schools have no Computer classes like networking , software , nursing things that kids can get jobs in these days. No more walking in a factory and getting $15 an hour. No more of that get it together U.S. A you have the worst school system ever and nobody is trying to bring it into 2015. I bet the kids still get them books that are two tons thick. What about a tablet with the book on it. Stop having the good classes in a program that you only can apply for before high school and only take 15 kids in a networking class when you have 900 kids in the 8th grade in the county ridiculous. Them kind of class need to be in all schools through out biology don't need it if they going to be a doctor give them some pre med courses or something. Give the kids something useful for the times we live in. My son graduated now but he learned not one dam thing in high school to help him now. Nothing at all about finance getting a bank account writing a check. Entrepreneurship nothing. I seen something where a 16 year old girl is taken the initiative to teach kids networking on her spare time. This is stuff that pays these kids good saleries when they get out of school. They should be learning this kind of stuff. Just saying glad my kids are out of public schools it is a waste that is why these dummies are doing what they doing crimes and stupid stuff. School System get better.

  36. Carita Ahn says:

    Jairo Muñoz …SIT YO' ASS DOWN….

  37. Carita Ahn says:

    Angela Hollingsworth …I BEG TO DIFFER…charter schools are an effort to dismantle public education, and give all the schools away to the"CHARTER movement", which DUMBS our children down further. Teachers in charter schools are not usually UNION organized, get paid less, to TEACH TO THE standardized tests, rather than TRULY educating OUR children. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel (the jewish mayor) in Chicago, and the mayor of Los Angeles are getting their palms greased to the MAX. Parents in Chicago are FIGHTING mad, and CHALLENGING the mayors motivation for closing PUBLIC schools which are progressive, and doing well…parents in Los Angeles…are just LOST, dazed, and confused. They think charter schools are the best thing since apple pie. There's a charter school in every church in my neighborhood, one which is right next to an abandoned GAS station…(contaminated "tanks" still underground) at the busiest intersection in our community…MLK Boulevard….(irony)

  38. Carita Ahn says:

    I think you mean:…..DEMORALIZATION…?

  39. Carita Ahn says:

    ….YES! DIET changes EVERYTHING. I'm so sick, and tired of public schools feeding, and SELLING junk food to our children! The student store "SELLS" soda, chips, and other sugary junk food, and the breakfast/lunch "meals" are so fabricated the children eat the ketchup, and throw the rest away..Sadly, OUR YOUNG people will face terrible health consequences as adults….parents seem to not care.

  40. Carita Ahn says:

    GOOOOOOD! Mariah IS the "WIND" of CHANGE, and COURAGE, blowing through OUR younger generations! KUDOS to YOU: Parents.

  41. Carita Ahn says:

    I'm retired from teaching. My experience in teaching for over 20 years, has told me truth is the light. Ive taught all levels, but middle school is a "crucial" period for our young people…they are ALL PUBESCENT, and that's a challenge. I've had three pregnant eighth-graders..and "promiscuity" pervades the stairwells/and corners of the outdoor "yard"/PE field. When I showed "Eyes On The Prize" to my classes, they saw Huey, and the Black Panthers "challenging racism/inequality"…then …they SAW the FREE BREAKFAST PROGRAMS in action…"Ms….did they really have guns?…and they FED ALL the children in the neighborhoods, too??… ME: YES! The free breakfast program originated with the "Panthers"…FREE HUEY!

  42. Carita Ahn says:

    TEACH YOUR OWN CHILDREN the TRUTH….tha's NOT in the "HIS" STORY books…they need to KNOW OURSTORY.

  43. Luci Ryan says:

    I should have been her mother.

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