Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris explores the disproportionate punishments experienced by young black girls in the public school system. In this book Ms. Morris chronicles the experience of black girls across the country when it comes to their relationship with school discipline measures. While 16% of students are female, one-third of school-related arrests consist of black girls. Over a four-year period, the author explores the catalyst behind this statistic. She conducted interviews to supplement her in-depth research. She does indicate that black boys are also subject to the same disproportionate disciplinary responses, but because black girls (and women) have been overlooked or lost in the national narrative her focus for this book is only girls. However, despite the obstacles faced by young black girls, including increased incidents of sexual abuse and sex trafficking, they somehow manage to find ways to create a remarkable sense of self.
What Worked Well
Pushout is not only well-researched, it includes stories of real people. The conclusions aren’t merely anecdotal. We get to hear from girls in their own words. We are exposed to their raw emotions which causes one to think how we would react in the same situation. The national conversation on race and racial violence has largely taken place within the context of how it impacts men and boys. As the author points out the school-to-prison pipeline has also impacted young black girls in the same way. While they may not end up incarcerated at the same rate as black boys and men, they do suffer additional atrocities and humiliations at a higher rate. Black girls are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse and assault and/or sex trafficking. Along these lines, Ms. Morris discusses how black girls (and women’s) attitudes of being ride or die for their men is in a form of “internalized sexism”.
Despite this, black girls are able to create a strong sense of self which propel many to graduate high school and go on to graduate college. This drive to own one’s narrative, body, mind, and spirit may escalate situations that result in school-related arrests. Black women, as Ms. Morris points out, have a legacy of being strong and defiant, and it isn’t seen as wrong within the black community. But it is seen as wrong and even “ghetto” in the eyes of the mainstream. The author offers such examples as Harriet Tubman or Sojourner Truth. When this passion for self is met by a lack of cultural understanding and awareness in schools the situation is often misinterpreted. Young black girls often find they are locked inside of their potential without a way to access it within the walls of public education.
Ms. Morris also provides demographics as a contextual backdrop. She cites that 40% of black children live in poverty and for black girls under the age of 18, the poverty rate is 35%. The leading cause of death for black girls and women ages 15 to 24 is homicide. There is an excellent balance between socioeconomic conditions and differences in cultural socialization in the school environment. In other words, it’s not only about the impact of implicit bias in schools, but also how the chips have been stacked against black girls from the outset.
What Didn’t Work Well
There isn’t much that didn’t work well. This is much more of an exploratory work than it is a results-oriented one. Ms. Morris offers potential solutions indirectly, rather than directly. She does provide some information on programs or initiatives that are or have taken place in various school systems and communities across the country. But if you are looking for a concrete solution to the challenge she raises, you will not find one. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. With black women and girls being left out of the national conversation around racial equity this serves as a good ice breaker.
The author offers categories of redress such as designing schools to achieve equity and conducting a race-conscious gender analysis. She expands under each of the categories, of which there are several. Perhaps this is a set up for a next book or a call to action for school systems to further explore their participation in pushing out young black girls.
Read this book if you are a teacher, school administrator, parent, black woman, black man, or a human being. I rated the book three stars only for the lack of solutions. That is based only on my personal bias of proposing detailed solutions to challenges presented. The juxtaposition of the socioeconomic system against the education system is key. Public schools are often discussed in a vacuum not taking into account the environment in which they exist. In my mind, there is no talking about changing public schools without talking about changing the cast system, the cities, and the distribution of equity in the same communities. Disciplinary systems that don’t take cultural socialization into account are failing not just young black girls, but everyone. We see the extent of this when girls become women. When confident black women who speak their minds, no matter how professional, are relegated to angry black women at work and in general. While not discussed at length in the book, the lack of teachers who look like the students in the seats further exacerbates the issue.
For more information on Pushout and to get discussion guides visit www.moniquewmorris.me.
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