Imagine, as a little girl, you are told you are full of magic. That the women who came before you were also magic, and did magical things like breaking ceilings made of glass. That no matter what obstacle you face, as long as you magically lean in, you have the chance to overcome; propelled by the spirit of sisterhood, guided by goddesses and fairy godmothers, saturated with super-powered sugar, spice and everything nice, because that’s what little girls are made of.
Imagine you are told you are special, unique and treasured; that your voice is worthy and strong. It is your connection to your magic and you should never, under any circumstances, allow anyone to take it away from you.
Now imagine, as a little girl, for seven hours of the day, five days a week, you are sent to a place where you are told your magic is too much. It makes no sense to you because you aren’t doing anything differently than your peers, but you…look different. Which makes your magic…different. You’re told it’s not the right kind of magic, not the acceptable magic. It doesn’t match the other girls’ magic. It’s too big, even when you shrink yourself. It’s too loud, even when you whisper. It’s too strong, even when you’re not moving. (This video of fired School Resource Officer Ben Fields attacking a girl is an unpleasant example of that.)
Your magic is perceived as dark magic: malevolent and vicious. Unseemly and uncouth, meant only for disruption and defiance. It’s a magic that seeps into your tone and your mannerisms, your hairstyles and clothing. It must be contained and disciplined at all costs.
Your magic scares the people who don’t understand it, and as a result, you are subjected to unnecessary and egregious chastisement, in an effort to subdue your voice, if not completely destroy it.
Dr. Monique Morris has spent years researching the trend of Black girls being more harshly disciplined in school than their white peers, and in a new documentary Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools (based on her book of the same title), she explores why. Interviewing over 150 girls, educators, and justice professionals, Dr. Morris unpacks the several biases Black girls face in the classroom.
Numerous studies have shown the disparity in discipline toward minority students, Black students in particular. Data collected in 2009-10 representative of approximately 85% of the nation’s students show that in areas where Black students made up less than a fifth of the enrollment (18%), they account for the majority of students suspended once or more than once (81% combined), and almost half of all expulsions (39%). A more recent study from the National Women’s Law Center shows that Black girls are five times more likely to be suspended and six times more likely to be expelled than white girls.
Ironically, recent studies have also shown that Black women earn more degrees than any other demographic in this country when characterized by race and gender. The National Center for Education Statistics released information that shows Black women leading in the amount of conferred degrees, earning 66% of bachelor’s degrees, 71% of master’s degrees, and 65% of all doctorate degrees. These numbers have been on the rise for the past twenty years.
A comparison of this data could lead a conspiracy theorist to believe a calculated effort to halt this particular trend has been implemented in classrooms across the nation. They could argue the racist origins of this country have manifested themselves into TORs, IEPs, dress codes targeting Black hairstyles, and zero-tolerance policies, all in order to stifle Black students. Their culture, heritage, religions, and language are heavily policed via disciplinary guidelines that were written without their culture, heritage, religions or language in mind. One doesn’t need to be a conspiracy theorist, however, to admit the efforts to suppress minority progress in this country are ever-present, calculated or not. And they have been effective since the beginning.
In the late 1600’s scared white men, fueled by hysteria, came to the conclusion that a Caribbean slave named Tituba “bewitched” two small girls (who had probably ingested toxic fungus, causing them to vomit and have seizures). Tituba is the first woman to be accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. It was later discovered that her “confession” was not only coached but beat out of her by slave master Samuel Parris. She remained imprisoned until someone purchased her, and was then lost to history. Dozens of other people suffered during the trials, true—but it’s important to note that the first person was the one that was…different. The fear of Tituba’s cultural differences created a maelstrom that destroyed a community.
America was afraid of the different girl then, and they remain afraid. Yet with Black women being hailed as “The Most Educated Group in the US,” despite all the disciplinary disparities intended to trip them up, one thing is clear: #BlackGirlMagic is real.