Moving from black girls to wise black women: mitigating the impact of stereotyping

After quoting abysmal statistics on dropout rates, sexual and physical assaults, and  disproportionate disciplinary action in the classroom aimed at Black girls, a NOW (National Organization for Women) blogger concluded:

“Tragically, the source of much of this discipline is racial and gender stereotyping that label African-American girls as confrontational and provocative. Those Black girls who are outspoken in the classroom are disciplined at higher rates. They are being punished for not conforming to societal norms of how African-American girls “should” look, dress, and behave… Essentially, they are being punished for who they are.” 04/07/2015 by & filed under Promoting Diversity & Ending Racism.

Black female executives grow from confident black girls.  The pipeline of young women being groomed to be the leaders of tomorrow is clogged. While we discuss glass and concrete ceilings that threaten to stagnate or derail our careers, our young women aren’t even making it into the room.  The barriers of bias that we face as grown, black women as we are deemed confrontational, too aggressive, poor communicators, starts for this generations almost as soon as they begin to talk. “Today, Black children are 18 percent of preschool enrollment, but 42 percent of preschool-age children who have had one out-of-school suspension,” says Monique Morris, the author of “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.”  She adds that black girls are punished at a much higher rate. Let’s think about this– Pre-K through 12.  These are the vital years where confidence is built, children are supposed to be free to explore, to examine, to question, to dream.  Black girls curiosity about life is being snuffed out before they’ve even reached puberty.

The lowering of expectations and constant questioning is a part of a black girl’s journey from our earliest memories. I am sure many of you remember teachers being surprised you could successfully articulate your thoughts, or asked you who wrote your paper when you turned in a great essay.  How about the “How did you get your hair like that?” with eyebrows raised, not saying they liked it but bringing attention to it.  We were followed in stores, asked inappropriate questions by adults, and had grown men ogle us as if we were grown women.  It has gotten worse. Not only have the gloves been removed when handling black girls,  acid has been placed on hands that should be nurturing them.  This isn’t just about classroom treatment, it’s how they are being rejected in life period. These encounters leave them bruised and with permanently reduced self-esteem.  If a child doesn’t like herself, the chances of her making good decisions about her future aren’t good. It isn’t complicated.

I could go on to discuss who to blame but I won’t bother.  Race is still such an overwhelming factor in how a person of color fares in the United States that going over the history of it seems a sad waste of the reader’s time.  Race is, and continues to be the  time-honored, caustic, divide.  I am more interested in how we engage to help are future black wise women recover and mitigate the damage of these assaults?  We start early, and we engage often.  As you consider your volunteer work this year, are you thinking about the impact you can have on a little girl as she brightens from your rapt attention?  Are you picturing how your unbridled enthusiasm for the magic she makes, increases her interest in making it?  Are you risking your own reputation by intervening when you watch a girl’s self-esteem get cut down by a racist weed-wacker,  mowing her so low she has almost no chance of growing back? How about joining a school board, finding ways to bring young women to work or share a cup of soup and a sandwich with a girl interested in your field? Demand and support legislation that helps crush the stereotypes and the negative impact of the policies they create. Donating money to organizations who support young mothers and girls is also a great way to help.

This war is won by making those who mistreat our children accountable, and by making ourselves available. The abysmal numbers of black women rising to leadership will only get worse as the pipeline of bright, beautiful, black girls is clogged with rejection and pain.  Let’s help them turn on the taps full blast!

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