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Mad Science or School-to-Prison? Criminalizing Black Girls

In many American classrooms, black children are treated like ticking time bomb savages.

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Yet once again the “feminist revolution” is lily white and over-exposed. The article hails characters from “House of Cards,” HBO’s swaggering white-fest “Girls” and “Homeland,” then blithely acknowledges that the female protagonists of these shows are all white and mostly middle class. Previous pieces from both the L.A. Times and the New York Times have saluted the rise of ass-kicking female adventurers like those in the “Hunger Games”, “Zero Dark Thirty” and (even) Pixar’s animated movie “Brave” as evidence that Hollywood is becoming more receptive to strong independent female characters.

But back in the image ghetto, substantive, much less starring roles, for women of color are still less abundant than Aunt Jemima’s head scarf. The endless parade of reality show swill featuring hyper-sexual “out of control” brawling black women has long dwarfed dramatic mainstream portrayals of black women’s lived experiences, ambitions and narratives.

Thus, Kiera Wilmot’s arrest and expulsion is a national travesty. It is an indictment not just of the inveterate racism and sexism of American public education but of an image industry that still loves to see black women doing mammy, Jezebel and welfare queen to white women’s heroic explorers.

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i See Jeff Martin and Jeri Clausing, “Police Handcuff Georgia Kindergartner for Tantrum,Huffington Post, April 17, 2012, ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/17/police-handcuff-ga-kinder_n_1430749.html). (Accessed January 31, 2013).

ii See Daniel J. Losen and Russell J. Skiba, “Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis,” Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010, p. 8. “If we assume that Black and Hispanic poverty rates are similar in these districts (as they are nationally) and if we assume that Black males and females have similar exposure to poverty it becomes difficult to explain why suspension rates are so much higher for Black males than for both Hispanic males and Black females.” Losen and Skiba cite previous research that has not identified a link between socioeconomic background or poverty and high rates of suspension (e.g., Skiba, 2002, Wallace 2009, APA 2008).

iii Ibid.

iv Ibid. pp. 3-6. Losen and Skiba report that there has been a 9 point increase in black suspensions from 1973 to the present, such that “Blacks are now more than three times more likely to be suspended than whites.” Based on data from 18 districts nationwide they also concluded that white females were the least likely to be suspended and black males the most likely out of all racial and ethnic groups. See also, Russell J. Skiba, et al. “The Color of Discipline: Sources of Racial and Gender Disproportionality in School Punishment,” Indiana Education Policy Center, Policy Research Report: SR1, June 2000, pp. 1-26.

v See also Losen and Skiba, p. 10.