The following piece originally appeared on Black Star Journal under the title of, “Have Black Girls Been Overlooked?” It was written by By Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu.
By: Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu
Recent test scores, statements from parents and Black girls, and visits to urban school districts have shown that we’re in the midst of a crisis among Black females. Yet, almost nothing gets reported; their situation seems of little consequence to the general public. We have done very little to encourage, respect, support, and appreciate Black girls’ development. Their situation and their academic achievement cries out for substantive change. What is the status of education for Black females? Here’s a brief rundown.
Why Are Only 18 Percent of Black Females Proficient in Reading?
Why are Black girls having such a difficult time learning to read? Why has America been so silent? We hear so much about the fact that only 12 percent of Black boys in eighth grade are proficient in reading. While we understand Black boys are on life support, Black girls are in critical condition. Have Black girls been overlooked? Is 18 percent an acceptable level of proficiency? How can this be acceptable? I believe this is a crisis and bordering on a catastrophe.
Hundreds of books, articles, conferences, and seminars exist about the plight of Black males. Even the White House has chimed in with My Brother’s Keeper. Where are the books, articles, conferences, and seminars about the plight among Black females? How are Black girls going to be economically competitive with only 18 percent proficiency in reading by eighth grade?
Who is going to teach Black females how to read? Why are schools having such difficulty? Who is going to teach Black girls to love reading? Who is going to expose them to the beauty of Black literature? Who is going to make sure Black girls are reading short stories, autobiographies, poetry, essays, and other Black literature? Who is going to introduce them to the brilliance of Black female writers? Who is going to help get Black girls so passionate about authors such as Toni Cade Bambara, Lucille Clifton, Alice Walker, Eloise Greenfield, and their own writing that Black girls’ literary groups become their number one way to spend free time?
Is it possible that Black females know how to tweet, text, e-mail, and write comments on Facebook, but lack proficiency on Common Core tests? Do schools understand and appreciate Black female learning styles? Are schools expecting Black girls to behave and learn like White girls? Do some schools and teachers have low expectations for Black females? What percentage of America’s teachers are Black female? How important are Black female teachers to Black girls? How important are Black girls to Black female teachers? Does the presence of Black female teachers raise Black girls’ test scores and enhance self-esteem?
If literacy were of no consequence, why did Frederick Douglass, Phillis Wheatley, and countless others—enslaved and free—remain determined to read? What has happened to this determination among Black people? Why is proficiency in reading critical to societal development? Or have we in America decided proficiency doesn’t matter to our future as a nation?
Why Are So Many Black Girls Suspended from School?
We have heard that 16 percent of Black males are suspended from school. Did you know that 12 percent of Black females are suspended? Are Black females being overlooked? We know Black males are on life support, but Black females are in critical condition.
Does America hate Black females? Do most schools dislike Black females? Are schools and teachers expecting Black females to act like White females? Do White teachers expect Black girls to act like their daughters? Do some schools and teachers think Black girls are too loud? Do they believe they have too much “attitude?”
What are some of the prevalent reasons schools and teachers give for suspending Black girls? Many Black girls are suspended because they wear their hair natural. A Black girl in Orlando, Florida was threatened with expulsion because she was bullied about her natural hairstyle, the school thought it best that she straighten her hair and she refused to do so.In another instance, a Black girl was suspended because she juxtaposed Frederick Douglass’ views of education during slavery with present-day views of education. Are these understandable policies for suspending Black girls?
Are schools fair to Black girls? Do some schools have double standards? Why do White girls get a warning for a school uniform infraction and Black girls get suspended? The same applies to using a mobile device. Many Black girls are suspended because they rolled their eyes at the teacher, put their hand on their hip and rotated their neck. Some Black girls are suspended because they were chewing gum and said, “Whatever.” For White girls to be suspended it requires bloodshed or possession of a weapon.
Are some White female teachers afraid of Black girls? Do some schools use suspension of Black girls the way they use special education for Black boys? Is suspension a way to remove unwanted students from the classroom? How can Black girls excel academically in environments where they are not liked, respected, culturally understood, and appreciated? In most schools, 20 percent of the teachers make 80 percent of suspension referrals. Is the problem with Black girls or with this 20 percent?
Why are suspension policies critical to a school’s culture? What happens within that culture when a small percentage of teachers implements the greatest number of suspension referrals—and is successful at doing so? What does this say about the school’s leadership? And what happens to Black girls when they experience this policy and threat (since they see their peers getting suspended) as they go through school? What can schools and teachers do to move away from suspension and toward education?
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