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We Need to Help Boys AND Girls of Color Succeed

Ever since the Trayvon Martin shooting, people across the country have engaged in an important dialogue about the challenges faced by African American boys and young men in this country, and rightly so. A focus on – and substantial investment in – the success of males of color in this country is critical and long overdue.

But as the National Women’s Law Center has said time and again, there has been very little attention to the barriers to education that girls and young women of color face, which should not be underestimated in terms of their gravity or their impact. I saw only one piece after the verdict, the Washington Post’s ‘Bolster’ black boys, but don’t forget about black girls (and quoting President Obama’s remarks) pointing out that the important focus on African American boys does not have to be at the exclusion of African American girls, who face very real – but sometimes different – obstacles in education, the juvenile justice system, and beyond.

That’s why I was so excited to read this excellent interview with Dr. Monique Morris conducted by New American Media and shared by the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign with the headline “Are Girls Invisible in the Movement for Boys and Men of Color?”. Dr. Morris, a Soros Justice Fellow and the co-founder of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute who recently wrote Race, Gender and the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Expanding Our Discussion to Include Black Girls with the African American Policy Forum, does an amazing job highlighting the types of issues faced by African American girls and the factors that contribute to the relative invisibility of girls of color.

For example, Dr. Morris talked about the suspension and expulsion rates for African American girls, which – while lower than those for African American boys – are higher than for any other group of girls or boys. Dr. Morris explained that because of “zero tolerance” policies, more than 1 in 10 black girls are suspended nationwide, often for behaviors that are subjectively judged, like being “loud, defiant, and precocious” or being “unladylike.” And she noted that “[b]etween 2005-2010, black females age 12 and older experienced sexual victimization at a rate of nearly 3 percent, higher than their white (2.2 percent) and Latina (1.4 percent) counterparts.”

As Dr. Morris explained, there is a tendency to compare girls to boys and assume that because girls are doing better on a number of measures, there is no problem for the girls. But that is not the case for girls of color. The intersection of racism and sexism and patriarchy in our society impact girls of color profoundly, and our education system and other institutions, both public and private, need to be mindful of this and work to develop interventions that will help put all children of color, including girls, on pathways to success. Stay tuned for more from NWLC on improving educational outcomes for girls and young women of color, particularly African Americans.

It's time for change, and we must act now. Time's up.