The South Carolina Student Arrest and "Black Girls Matter"

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ILLUSTRATION, FLICKR.COM PHOTO
  • Illustration, flickr.com photo

I've written over the past few days (here and here) about the incident at a South Carolina high school where a school resource officer slammed a sophomore girl to the ground because of her failure to obey an order to stop texting, then to leave the room. My focus has been on the problem of criminalizing student behavior. I haven't brought up the fact that the girl is black. I'm bringing it up now.

Was race a factor in the level of violence the resource officer used in arresting the girl? There's no way of knowing for sure. But it's worth while for each of us to do a gut check. How would we have reacted to the video if the girl had been white? Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, in a comment on my previous post, took the question one step further.
"I wonder what you all would be saying if the policeman were black and the student were white—-such transgressions of societal expectations were cause for lynching and hanging at one time in South Carolina."
I had to look away after the tenth time I saw the video clip on the news. I listened to the discussion without watching the screen. It was just too painful to see over and over. But to be perfectly honest, I think the scene would have sparked a higher level of visceral outrage in me if it was a black officer slamming a white girl to the ground. I'm not proud of that. It shows an ingrained prejudice on my part. But much as I try to fight against the worst parts of my acculturation, if I pretend my prejudices don't exist—if I say, in the words of the right wing character Stephen Colbert played on his Comedy Central show, "I don't see color"—that makes me a party to the myth that we don't live in a society whose racism is widespread on both personal and institutional levels.

This year, a study was published called Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected. One of its main findings is the disproportionate number of black girls who are disciplined, suspended and expelled in our schools. We tend to focus on black (or Hispanic) males as being targets of excessive punishment in schools and the outside world, but as this study makes clear, we shouldn't forget that black girls are targets of similar discrimination.

There's this from the Department of Education.
Data released by the Department of Education for the 2011–2012 school year reveal that while Black males were suspended more than three times as often as their white counterparts, Black girls were suspended six times as often.
The Black Girls Matter study looks at statistics on discipline, suspensions and expulsions in Boston and New York schools. Here are some of the findings for Boston schools.
Black girls are disciplined at rate about six times higher than white girls (Black girls make up 28 percent of the schools' females and 61 percent of the girls disciplined. White girls make up 15 percent of the females and 5 percent of the girls disciplined.)
Black boys are disciplined at a rate between four and five times higher than white boys.
• Black girls are suspended at rate a bit more than six times higher than white girls.
• Black boys are suspended at a rate about three times higher than white boys.
No white girls were expelled, so it's impossible to make a comparison. (The study doesn't state the number of black girls expelled, but a bit of extrapolation puts that number at about 10.)
• Black boys are expelled at a rate a little under three times higher than white boys.
Though the numbers are a bit different in New York, they're similar.

Girls are disciplined, suspended and expelled less frequently than boys, but when it happens, the disproportion between black and white girls is higher than between black and white boys.

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