Report: Dark-Skinned Black Girls Receive Harsher Discipline in School

Study finds that darker skinned African-American girls are three times more likely to be suspended than lighter skinned girls.

It’s no secret that Black children in the school system are disciplined harsher than their white counterparts. And while most of this talk is around Black boys, it’s important to point out that Black girls suffer a similar fate.

Data from the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education found that in the 2011-2012 school year, 12 percent of all Black girls in public elementary and middle schools had been suspended compared to 2 percent of white girls.

A recent New York Times article uses personal stories to convey that not only are Black girls more likely to be suspended, but they are also suspended more that their white counterparts for the same “bad” acts and for lesser offenses.  

Yet researchers from Villanova University were curious about what else was playing a role in the mistreatment of Black female students. Does colorism have something to do with this bias?

Yes. Researchers found that darker skinned Black girls were a whopping three times more likely to be suspended from school than their lighter skinned counterparts.

Lead researcher Lance Hannon told the Times that for many teachers and administrators, darker skin invokes negative connotation linked to certain stereotypes that influence how behavior is perceived.

‘When a darker-skinned African-American female acts up, there’s a certain concern about their boyish aggressiveness – that they don’t know their place as a female, as a woman," Hannon said.

Another professor from Texas A&M, Jamila Blake, who specializes in psychology and education weighed in on the issue. “Black girls are often seen as unsophisticated, hypersexualized and defiant.”

So what can be done about it?

A recent eye-opening report from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) looked to reduce educational disparities among Black girls. The report offers up some recommendations and policy changes in order to lessen racial bias and colorism in the school setting.

For policymakers, they suggest that the U.S. Department of Education Office investigate schools for these disproportionate discipline policies and allocate more money for studies around this issue.
They also recommend that school administrators provide educators with racial and gender sensitivity trainings, understand that what may be perceived as problematic behavior may be linked to violence and trauma, do a better job at tracking the data around discipline and race and provide girls of color with culturally appropriate social and emotional learning programs that teach them skills for responding to conflict.

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(Photo: Hill Street Studios/Blend Images/Corbis)

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