How Misperceptions Of 'Aggressive' Black Female Behavior Lead To Tough Punishments For Young Girls

This Stereotype Of Black Women Has Serious Implications

It's no secret that African American women are disproportionately represented in arrest statistics across the United States, and it appears this pattern of punishment begins for young black girls at a very early age.

Last year a New York Times piece explored racial disparities in suspensions for school-aged children -- a pattern with which freelance writer Ashley Ford is intimately familiar, she told HuffPost Live.

"I remember getting kicked out of class one time for sneezing too loud and being sent to detention," Ford said. "I spent all day in in-school detention."

Part of the problem was that, despite the racial makeup of the school, nearly all of the authority figures at Ford's school were white -- and they often misread emotions coming from the students.

"We are read as aggressive. … Most of the black women I know, in a room full of white women, our voices are deeper," she said. "The way we speak emphatically, which is cultural, is sometimes read as aggressive or intimidating. … As black women, [we] are not raised to cower, you're definitely raised to respect, but you're not raised to cower."

Fusion reporter Collier Meyerson agreed, saying that the public, more generally, misinterprets black behavior, which can have grave consequences once black students exit the gates of their schools and become adults. Meyerson explained:

"People don't know how to read black girl expressions, black women expressions. They don't know how to read their faces. They don't know how to read their happy faces, their exclamations, and that often times they are translated into aggressive [behavior]. ... It's one thing when you get kicked out of class, but it's another thing when you're encountered by law enforcement and you're staring at a gun."

Watch the HuffPost Live clip above to hear more about the societal perception of black women.

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Before You Go

The Lockers
"Coming in the building feels like turning in my stuff before entering a jail cell." -- Angel L.
"The teachers can go through the gate without being stopped, and students are stopped and asked to show a pass. Students are treated like they're prisoners. They already have to be escorted by a teacher to get through." -- Karl L.
Ban The Scans
"This photo represents what we have to go through before entering our school everyday. I think it's uncalled for, and nine times out of 10, if any violence ... would occur it would be outside the school. According to DCLY [D.C. Lawyers For Youth] high quality mentoring for every D.C. child between 10-17 years old would cost $63 million, versus ... paying $305 million just to incarcerate them." - Sean "Lucky" W.
The Blind Pipeline That Youth Cannot See
"This photo represents how some African American youth are on a path to prison that they can't see or don't know when it's coming. The reason I say that is because most of us are expected to go to prison sometime in life. Statistics say one out of three African American males will go to prison in their life. In elementary school us African American youth are predicted to go to prison or jail based on standardized test scores and suspension rates." - Sean "Lucky" W.
The Jail That Surrounds Us
"This is a picture of the black long gate that surrounds my school, with only three ways to enter and I know that this is a tactic that jails use to keep 'criminals' in or out." -- Mike
"The American flag symbolizes the rights we are granted as citizens and the freedom we have to manifest ideas and expand our knowledge. The bars represent restriction and confinement. Two conflicting ideas. We should not feel like our school system is detaining us and preventing us from flourishing." - Anaise
Troubled Past
"My name is Jacqueline S., I [have] lived in Washington D.C. most of my life. Im 20 in the twelfth-grade and excited to graduate in 2013. It took until my last year to figure out how school and education was important. This year has really opened my eyes. Because back then even when I was little I didn't understand why my mom woke me up early in the morning just to go to school because I never felt like it ... In middle school I was suspended a number of times and got expelled from school. But when I was suspended I knew that I was free by staying home watching TV ... I changed because I didn't want to fail."
The Everyday Routine
"Everyday students have to enter through the auditorium doors and place their backpacks on the X-Ray machine. Then they walk through the metal detector to meet their bag on the other side and then must wait for the bags to be searched by a security guard. This makes students feel as if we're going inside a jail to meet someone, or as if the staff sees us as criminals. Statistics show that 70 percent of students [who are] involved in 'in-school' arrests or are referred to law enforcement are black or Latino. If DCPS [D.C. Public Schools] wants to lower these numbers then why do we have the same procedures of entering a jail [instead of] a comforting environment of being welcomed to school?" - Mike
"This photo is of a young man who is sitting at a desk. The desk is in the school hallway and he is the only one outside. 'My teacher put me out here.' In most cases, the student is not at fault. Sometimes teachers do not know how to deal and give appropriate punishments. Restorative Justice should be implemented in our schools because, not only does it help students learn how to deal with their behavioral problems, it trains our teachers to deal with students in a correct manner that doesn't allow their personal judgement to affect the student." - Samera
The Box
"Every morning for the past three months after walking through the metal detectors, 17-year-old Skinny has to explain to the security guards before being wanded why the machine went off. Skinny has an ankle monitor on, or 'the box.' With a curfew of 8 p.m. every night, he feels trapped and isolated from the world. Skinny is on probation and was told he would get the monitor off a month ago. When that did not occur he became disappointed. At times he refused to go to school due to his frustrations. D.C. public schools allow up to three unexcused absences until truancy reports are sent out. I am very concerned about his education and the consequences from the days he has missed." - Samera

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