The Silent Wars of African American Girls
By Jazelle Hunt NNPA Washington Correspondent | 5/9/2014, 10:03 a.m.
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – March 1 was the last time eight year-old Relisha Rudd was seen, leaving a local hotel here with Kahlil Tatum, a 51-year-old custodian who had been tasked to babysit her. Exactly a month later, Tatum was found dead; Rudd remains missing and the trail has gone cold.
The same week Tatum’s death was announced, the body of 30-year-old, first-year medical resident Teleka Patrick was pulled from a lake in Indiana. In the days leading up to her December disappearance, she and others expressed concern over her mental health. The circumstances of her death remain unclear.
One week after Patrick’s body was found, 22-year-old Karyn Washington, founder of For Brown Girls, a well-known blog dedicated to combatting colorism and promoting self-love for Black women, was found dead in an apparent suicide.
The plight of black boys garners well-deserved attention, even from the White House—but black girls are fighting epic wars of their own, too.
“Black girls are under the radar,” says Monique Morris author and president of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute. “At this point, all of the conversations are geared toward men and boys, and now at least a billion dollars annually will be invested in ensuring that men and boys of color have services that are uniquely responsive to their condition. And we don’t see that similar investment in girls.”
This lack of investment may be because black girls seem to be winning their wars, especially when compared to their male counterparts. On standardized math and reading tests, they outscore their male counterparts. They report lower levels of tobacco and alcohol use than their White counterparts, according to the Center for Disease Control’s youth surveillance survey. And 2012 National Education Statistics reports of gains in higher education, with African American women and girls coming from behind to outpace everyone in the rate of college enrollment.
At the same time, four in 10 black girls don’t graduate from high school. Starting as early as preschool, they are more likely to be suspended than all other girls, and most other boys. In some states, such as Wisconsin, they are the group most likely to be disciplined in this way. Social justice organization Black Women’s Blueprint finds that nearly 60 percent of black women have been sexually assaulted by age 18. And in 2009, University of Southern California researchers found that black girls are actually 50 percent more likely than white girls to be bulimic.
Even ordinary growing pains can be magnified at the intersection of racial and gender discrimination.
For example, a 2012 study published in Sociology of Education points out that African American teen boys are more likely than African American girls to be embraced when bussed to predominantly white schools; black boys gain social capital through the sports they are encouraged to play and through presumptions about street-cred and coolness, while black girls are unable to use an equivalent stereotype or sport to ease their interactions.
In short, black girls live in a state of limbo, where their race, their gender, or a combination of both can work against them.