Protecting Black Girls

“The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.

The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman.

The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” Malcolm X in 1962.

I’ll start this post by suggesting that this quote also applies to black girls. Since black girls are adultified in American society, let me clarify that I’m referencing a person between the ages of 0-18. A girl is a child…someone learning and making sense of the world around them. A girl is a child…someone who should be allowed to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. A girl is a child…someone who should be protected from the “real world” until they have the capacity to navigate it. All too often Black girls aren’t permitted to be children. This is the case with Black boys as well as we see the words used to describe them. We remember that 12-year old, 6th grader Tamir Rice was descried as a man. The adultification practice is consistent with all Black children, but in this Women’s History Month 2022 as we celebrate women, let’s take a deep dive into protecting Black girls. Let’s look at how Black girls experience the world, specifically my Black girl.

What makes white girls so precious? What makes white-passing girls so fragile? For definition purposes, white-passing means biracial or multiracial people who have pale skin and look white to the uninformed person. What makes white women so soft and delicate? Those qualities are rarely used to describe Black girls or Black women so the conclusion can be drawn that the qualities don’t have to do with their gender but instead their race. Nowhere in the history of the United States has the white race be associated with words like “precious, fragile, soft or delicate”? Why are these the words used when describing white girls or white women? When we understand the answer to that question, we can peel through the biases that are heaped on Black girls and Black women.

In May 2021, my second daughter was punched in the face by a white boy on her track team. The 14-year-old classmate punched my 13-year-old daughter in the face and busted her lip because she refused to give him a chair. She was sitting in the chair, and he wanted it. The students were in the gym waiting on the bus to take them to a track meet. They moved from sitting in the bleachers to running around playing a version of King of the Hill. The Coach left his chair in the gym, and the students wanted to be “in charge” and sit in it. There was never an adult in the gym throughout this interaction. At some point my daughter was running with the chair from the boy who wanted the chair. Then, she stopped and sat in it. He began to shove her to force her out of the chair. At that moment he punched her in the face. When seeing what he did, his comment was, “Oh, I meant to hit your shoulder.” My daughter went to ask the Coach for ice and told that the boy had punched her in the mouth. There was no ice. There was no empathy for my child. The Coach proceeded to get all the students on the bus to go to the track meet. Both my daughter and this boy ran in the meet as if nothing had happened. When my husband and I saw our daughter at the meet, we were shocked because her lip was swollen and bleeding. My husband confronted the Coach on the field that day and got no answers.

The abuse in the gym was captured on video since there are cameras inside. The school administration/leadership reviewed it and decided three days later that the incident was “an accident as a result of horseplay.” So, their normal “Zero Tolerance” policy for aggression no longer applied in this situation. Interesting. Their normal practice of having students apologize for bad behavior no longer applied in this situation. Interesting. Their normal practice of following Matthew 18:15 (this is a “Christian” school in Northwest Indianapolis) no longer applied in this situation. Interesting. We filed a police report with the local law enforcement agency the day after the altercation and continually called the prosecutor wanting assault charges filed. Nothing. We called the local child welfare agency to file a complaint against the school for lack of supervision and neglect. Nothing. None of the systems in place to protect children from brutality and aggression worked to protect my daughter who was punched in the face by a classmate. None of those organizations who claim to advocate for gender equity worked to speak on behalf of my daughter who was punched in the face by a classmate. None of those community organizations who speak about violence against women and girls spoke on my daughter’s behalf. None of the teachers or school leaders who claim to “love students like their children” saw enough value in my daughter to stand up for her. Even the track coach who was the only Black faculty member at the school didn’t see my daughter as worthy of protecting when she was punched in the face by a white boy.

My daughter said, if a Black boy had punched a white girl in the mouth, he would’ve been immediately suspended. At 13, she knew in that school and many other spaces, the humanity of white girls is more valuable than the humanity of Black girls. She even saw a Black male, her Coach, in that white space who didn’t protect her. She watched all the systems and organizations refuse to come to her defense. As a child making sense of the world, what message is she learning about her worth and value?

Yet, the Black women of the community came through as they always do. When I posted this incident on my social media feed, it was shared almost 60 times. Black women immediately started calling the school, emailing the Head of School, calling the church leadership, calling the prosecutor, and demanding justice. Black women were the voice defending my child in every social media post. When a white woman with two adopted Black children on the same track team began attempts to discredit my daughter, Black women came to the defense of my 13-year-old. The white mom behaved as if her proximity to Blackness gave her permission to attempt to shame a Black girl, but the Black community had no part in allowing that. They were very clear with this white woman…your proximity to Blackness doesn’t make you the authority on Blackness. Yes, in that situation there were a few White women using their power and privilege to speak on behalf of my daughter. They are allies. Yet, the overwhelming amount of support came from the Black community. Black women. Black mothers.

My daughter is now ending her 8th grade year in another school. Over the summer we had consistent therapy with an amazing Black mental health provider. As an adult I still can’t make sense of this nonsense, so asking a child to do so without giving her support to do so is a big ask. Asking Black girls to discern who is a safe person and where is a safe place as they’re navigating life is a big ask. When we demand that systems see them as precious, fragile, soft or delicate, maybe they will have more grace in their toolbox to help. If my daughter’s previous school saw her as precious, fragile, soft or delicate, when a boy punched her in the mouth and bloodied her lip, the school leadership would have reacted in a very different response. That, at the end of the day is the work of equity. When you treat my daughter with the compassion you’d treat a white girl who was punched in the face by a Black boy, THEN, the school inches further towards an equitable school community.

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