Tuesday, March 11, 2014
From The Feminist Wire
On Friday, March 7, 2014, TFW Associate Editor Aishah Shahidah Simmons gave a presentation on the importance of naming and ending sexual violence with approximately 50 African-American and Latino students from Washington Prep High School and Duke Ellington Continuation School’s Women of Color in the U.S. class in South Los Angeles. This International Women’s Day (IWD) presentation was conceived and organized by TFW’s Contributing Editor Sikivu Hutchinson who is an award-winning author, senior intergroup specialist for the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, and founder of the Women’s Leadership Project (WLP), a high school feminist mentoring program. While WLP’s focus is on girls, this IWD presentation was mixed gender because sexual violence impacts everyone directly and/or indirectly.
During her presentation, Simmons screened an excerpt of her internationally acclaimed, award-winning film NO! The RapeDocumentary, shared parts of her own incest and rape survivor herstory, and talked about some of the issues covered in the film. They included: rape as a community issue that reinforces interlocking systems of oppression; the role of religion in violence against women; media stereotypes about Black women; and Black men as pro-feminist allies in the anti-sexual violence movement...
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
A Photo-documentary project
By Sikivu Hutchinson
The savior teacher from central casting—bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, eternally resourceful, bane of all the gossips, slackers and just-collecting-a-paycheck curmudgeons that dam up in the mythic faculty lunch rooms of teacher films—is always blindingly white, a thorn in the side of school administration, an unrepentant rebel who the surly Yvonne Divans Hutchinson, pledged to become a teacher in her community after a white male substitute imperially told her class that they were lucky he’d deigned to come down to the “ghetto”. She stayed in South Central Los Angeles and went on to be a nationally acclaimed teacher-leader whose pedagogy has been widely documented and emulated. But exemplary black teachers’ day-to-day dedication to community, critical rigor, and nurturing the intellectual curiosity of black children is rarely highlighted in mainstream representations of teaching practice.
My early classroom experiences were shaped by African American instructors like my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Haley and my eleventh grade English teacher Ms. Brown. Haley electrified her students’ imaginations, employing playfully inventive strategies to connect literature, science and history to real life. Brown, a Chaucer devotee, buttonholed me when I was slacking off in her world literature class and told me there was no way she would let me fail. Growing up, the most commanding film portrayal of a black woman in the classroom that I can recall was the 1980s TV movie on Chicago teaching legend Marva Collins. Even now the Collins’ film is one of the few that spotlights a black woman protagonist without a “sympathetic” white filter. Analyzing nearly sixty years of teacher portrayals in American film, SUNY professor Barbara Breyerbach only identifies six African American teachers who appear as lead characters. Indeed, most national news stories on the “art” of teaching and educational redemption revolve around white missionaries and their studied heroism. According to these narratives the most prized, innovative teachers are those that come from the temporary inner city workforce generated by Teach for America and hot credentialing programs at elite universities. Whenever black women appear in these narratives they are bit players, world weary administrators or burnt out scolds hewing to an “antiquated” pre-information technology vision of the classroom. On the other hand, black women teachers are supposedly “blessed” with the natural ability to exude strength and compassion with children of color because of their caregiving skills. Their teaching is not perceived as an intellectual, scholarly craft demanding rigor and discipline but as an occupation, an extension of their "maternal instincts". As bell hooks writes in Teaching to Transgress:
It was always assumed by everyone else that I would be a teacher. In the apartheid South black girls from working class backgrounds had three career choices. We could marry. We could work as maids. We could become school teachers. And since, according to the sexist thinking of the time, men did not really desire ‘smart’ women, it was assumed that signs of intelligence sealed one’s fate. From grade school on, I was destined to become a teacher.
According to acclaimed educator Michele Foster, “During the three decades following emancipation and the first six decades of the twentieth century, teaching, along with the ministry, was one of the few occupations open to college-educated blacks. ‘The only thing a Negro can do is teach or preach,’ people would say.” (xvii). As a student in segregated Montgomery Alabama in the 1950s, civil rights activist Claudette Colvin recalled the impact of her black female English teacher, “We were supposed to be an English literature class but Miss Nesbitt used literature to teach life. She said she didn’t have time to teach us like a regular English teacher…Instead she taught us the world through literature…(she) made us see that we had a history too—that our story didn’t begin by being captured and chained and thrown onto a boat. She would say, ‘why do we still celebrate Independence Day when we are still in slavery?” Black students are politicized in the classrooms of the best black teachers. They are critically and actively taught self-love and cultural identity in a toxic environment.
Currently, African Americans are only 8% of the teacher workforce, while black students represent 16% of the school population. In an educational climate that has become more racially polarized and segregated white women now comprise 63% of the teacher workforce. Discrimination, high stakes tests, poor working conditions, rampant charterization and a lack of institutional and cultural support all contribute to high turnover for K-12 teachers of color. The overall decline of unionization (many charter schools are non-union), coupled with strategic attacks on teachers’ unions, have also fueled turnover and undermined job security. Nonetheless, in a culture in which black youth are routinely criminalized, becoming an activist black teacher is a political act. The national assault on black youth signified by mass incarceration, racist discipline policies, Eurocentric curricula and diminishing college preparation makes the craft of culturally responsive pedagogy all the more urgent. As my mother argues in Desiree Pointer Mason’s book Teacher Practice: Sharing Wisdom, Opening Doors:
Being part of traditionally oppressed groups I think it is incumbent upon me as a teacher to give kids a sense of themselves, not only as people but as a part of this society…especially our children being Black and Brown, being involved in situations where their dignity or intelligence is called into question. To understand those things that militate against them as well as those they can take advantage of…they have to take those little black and white marks (on the page) into themselves, internalize them and add them to their own development as human beings…We always have as part of our reading or contemplation of any material…the whole idea of taking it beyond just what it says on the page into ‘what does it mean?’ Why does it matter and what can I take away from this that can contribute to my growth?
So "In Praise of Black Women Teachers" is a pushback to this narrative of the black “school marm” as Aunt Jemima. Decades after my mother encountered the missionary teacher’s amazement “that (you), though black, can read and write and think” this mentality still informs many teachers’ views of black students. If you have an inspirational African American female teacher that you’d like to recommend for this project please contact email@example.com.
Sikivu Hutchinson is founder of the Women’s Leadership Project and author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels and Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.
Monday, January 20, 2014
“This is the worst I’ve seen it in a long time,” Cecil McLinn, the principal of Duke Ellington Continuation School in South Los Angeles, told me recently after one of our students missed a week of school because she didn’t have shoes. A highly-regarded administrator and longtime advocate in South L.A., McLinn has been on the frontlines of progressive education for several decades. As the economic depression in our community deepens he’s had to fill out more housing relief forms and aid vouchers for students who struggle just to make it to school every day. Activist administrators like McLinn know that their schools fill vital resource gaps in social welfare, health care and economic aid assistance for poor and working class families. Because of racial disparities in wealth, schools are especially important as social welfare centers and safe zones for black and Latino children. In L.A. County, black children comprise fifty per cent of the homeless youth population and thirty per cent of foster care youth. Foster care youth are disproportionately more likely to be incarcerated, drop out of school and experience teen pregnancy. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 45% of black youth in the U.S. and 35% of Latino youth, versus 12% of white youth, live in communities of “concentrated poverty”.
Duke Ellington is located at the edge of Westmont, a predominantly black and Latino high poverty community. Westmont was recently the subject of an extensive L.A. Times report, cited as having one of the highest homicide rates in a city where violent crime is purportedly decreasing. Latino and African American males between 17 and 25 are the main victims of murder-violence in the neighborhood. The majority of the businesses in the immediate community offer minimum to sub minimum wage non-unionized retail jobs with no benefits. Nonetheless, a recent L.A. City Council proposal to boost the minimum wage to $15 (potentially the highest in the nation) would only target hotel workers. Most of these workers commute long distances to wealthier neighborhoods on the Westside and downtown Los Angeles.
Some liberal and progressive pundits are fond of trotting out the term income inequality to support their thesis that class immobility represents the deepest divide in American society. Echoing President Obama’s Middle America-appeasing claim that income inequality is as much about class as it is about race, these pundits assiduously avoid the role institutional racism and white supremacy play in economic injustice. In the shadow of the 2016 presidential election, the catch-all “income inequality” has become the national bromide du jour. As his term aiding and abetting the Wall Street robber barons draws to a close, Obama has belatedly homed in on income inequality in an effort to deflect from slumping poll numbers and mounting left/liberal disillusion. But lost in the political rhetoric from the White House and mainstream media is any true focus on the deep racial fissures that drive income inequality. Income inequality doesn’t begin to address the enormous economic gulf that exists between white America and people of color. Black “wealth” was virtually wiped out by the mortgage debacle. The vast majority of black wealth comes from home equity—equity that has long been undermined by deeply entrenched de facto segregation. Whites of all income levels have greater investments in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, retirement accounts, benefits and income-generating property. So the racial homogenization of the term “income inequality” masks the racial roots of economic apartheid. For example, middle class African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately concentrated in high poverty areas with lower property values than are working class whites. This has more to do with the legacy of restrictive covenants and discriminatory lending policies than simple income inequality. Income inequality does not account for why African American and Latino homebuyers with good credit, middle class incomes and stable jobs were systematically targeted by Wells Fargo, Countrywide and Bank of America for subprime home loans. Income inequality also does not account for why LGBTQ workers of color have among the lowest wages, greatest incidences of workplace discrimination and least access to equitable housing, education and health care.
According to Oxfam, “The percentage of income held by the richest 1% in the U.S. has grown by nearly 150% since 1980. That small elite has received 95% of wealth created since 2009, after the financial crisis, while the bottom 90% of Americans have become poorer.” The majority of these American oligarchs are white. As Oxfam noted, “Falling taxes for the rich and increased use of tax havens have helped widen income inequality.” Even during the Jim Crow era, when African Americans were subject to domestic terrorism and legally relegated to substandard neighborhoods and facilities, they still had to pay taxes. But tepid proposals to correct egregiously lopsided taxation will not redress the racial devastation that global capitalism, union-busting and deregulation have had on communities of color in a country that desperately wants to airbrush race from income inequality.
Sikivu Hutchinson is founder of the Women’s Leadership Project and author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels and Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.
Monday, December 30, 2013
By Sikivu Hutchinson
Ah the splendor of black music. What would white supremacist civilization do without it? Homegrown, soulful, it is the forbidden spice in a thousand scenes of white folk romancing, cutting loose, getting it on and minding the empire’s business. Black dynamism has always been a wellspring for white theft. For many people of color, going to 21st century movies is a soul-sucking exercise in being trained to see power through white eyes, often with the strategic pomp of a black soundtrack. Death by trailer, it is the masochistic pleasure of being bludgeoned into mental submission by the narrative of white heroism (in the form of Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon and George Clooney), white hetero-normative romance (in the form of faceless anorexic white girls and boys slobbering over and devouring each other) and white domesticity in white picket fence communities.
Generations after psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s 1947 doll test experiment on racial identification (which has been updated several times over the past decade with similar results), children’s images of whiteness remain rigidly framed through the lens of humanity, civilization, ingenuity, genius, beauty and morality. When children of color see themselves at all in American film it is as ethnic exotica, sidekicks for the enterprising white boy/girl protagonist or fly-in-the-buttermilk diversity mascots fleshing out a classroom scene. According to a 2012 study by the USC Annenberg School, 76.3% of all speaking characters in American film were white while whites comprise 56% of U.S. ticket buyers. By contrast, Latinos comprise 26% of ticket buyers and 17% of the U.S. population, yet account for only 4.3% of speaking roles in film.
In 2013, the American film industry raked in over 10 billion in profits, plowing over people of color who now comprise the majority of California’s population. In the new film American Hustle blacks, Latinos and Arabs are the colorful backdrop to the ribald shenanigans of a cunning yet endearing white couple cruising toward redemption and nuclear family-hood in New Jersey. Based on the so-called “Abscam” sting of 1982, which brought down several East Coast politicos, the film is studded with people of color props while white lady privilege—in the form of actress Amy Adams’ ingenious temptress schemer—wins the day. The film’s straight white protagonists plot and cavort to R&B music by African American artists; they court and lust to classy-white-people staple Duke Ellington and sneer when a Mexican American FBI agent posing as an Arab sheik meekly protests that the term Abscam (a mangled combination of Arab and scam) is racist. With its blast from a comfortable past twist on illicit white suburbia Hustle has racked up accolades and even been hailed as “filmmaking at its best.” Safely scrubbed of black and brown voices in speaking roles Hustle approximates the pending orgy of awards shows which will toss a little red meat to a few black tokens (e.g., 12 Years a Slave and the Nelson Mandela biopic) then bask in the congratulatory glow of whiteness.
Last year, the L.A. Times published an in-depth analysis of the race and gender demographics of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s members. The Academy Awards generate millions of dollars for an industry that remains one of the most stubbornly Jim Crow corporate bastions in the world. Not surprisingly 94% of Academy members are older, white and male. The majority of Southern California members live in some of the most segregated enclaves in Los Angeles, safely tucked away from the black and Latino hordes in their super elite lily white Beverly Hills, West L.A. and Santa Monica neighborhoods. Even though the array of generous tax incentives offered in other states have displaced Los Angeles as the center of American film production the city still profits hugely from the industry and cheap non-living wage labor. In July, African American marketing executive Cheryl Boone Isaacs was elected Academy president. Despite this nod to “diversity”, the Academy’s Tea Party demographics speak to the greater issue of film representation in front of and behind the camera. According to Annenberg only 8% of directors, 13.6% of writers and 19.1% of producers were female, while the numbers were even more abysmal for people of color. Commenting on this regime acclaimed writer-director Ava DuVernay (the first black woman to win a Sundance Film festival Best Director award) quipped that, "I pretty much know us all personally."
Seeking to redress these disparities, DuVernay spearheaded the African American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM) in 2011. But the gross disparities in film industry hiring, casting, promotion and “greenlighting” are also buttressed by the complicity of print media. Despite their waning status as media leaders, the executive and editorial staff of the L.A. Times, New York Times and Wall Street Journal play an important role in upholding the film industry’s corporate pigmentocracy. Thus, while there have been numerous articles in these corporate newspapers hailing the increase in strong complex roles for white women in TV and film there has been no recognition of the continuing dearth of artistic opportunities for women of color. Indeed, the L.A. Times entertainment section only deigned to identify one or two (non-musician) people of color in its 2014 “Faces to Watch” pictorials.
The global implications of this corporate media white-out are reflected in my students. In classroom discussions many of them cannot name a role model of color (aside from rappers, singers, Oprah and MLK) or identify substantive portrayals of women of color in film and TV. Even though alternative filmmaking mediums on the Internet and elsewhere have exploded over the past decade few if any express the desire to be writers, directors, cinematographers or producers. Despite the reign of digital media, streaming and You Tube, youth of color are big moviegoers. Yet, targeted by the barrage of demonizing portrayals of their communities, they dismiss filmmaking as an impractical white medium that’s only accessible to an elite few. But the crafting of screen images is a major aspect of cultural propaganda, identity formation and nation building. And the battle for the psyches of children of color continues to occur in the dark, at the multiplex, where segregated Middle America still sees itself validated as the center of the universe.
Sikivu Hutchinson is author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels and Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.
Monday, December 9, 2013
By Sikivu Hutchinson
"No one ever discussed Trayvon Martin with us in class," said Sydney, an introspective 9th grader, wistfully. Sydney is a participant in my Young Male Scholars pilot at Gardena High School in South Los Angeles. He and a dozen other 9th and 10th graders are having a spirited discussion about the impact of Martin’s murder on the criminal justice system in Gardena’s college center. According to the school’s college counselor black boys are a “rarity” in the center and our small meeting is the largest number that he has ever seen here. On a campus where black students are the second largest ethnic group next to Latinos, black males are either pounced on by military recruiters or left to fend for themselves, implicitly branded as troublemakers and potential dropouts.
The college counselor’s observation was the impetus for my starting the pilot in collaboration with Brandon Bell, a young, South L.A. community activist alum of King Drew Medical Magnet and Princeton University. In an educational climate where there were only forty eight black male students in the freshman class of internationally prestigious UCLA, the pilot is specifically designed to pipeline black males into college through targeted intervention. But it is also geared toward politicizing young men of color by providing them with the historical consciousness and space to become an activist generation of organizers, scholars and intellectuals.
Our discussion about the political implications of Martin’s murder took place a day before the death of Nelson Mandela. As the world mourns Mandela and president Obama touts an eleventh hour focus on “income inequality” neo-apartheid conditions in American education continue to fester. Last week was bookended by two powerful education reports which indirectly indicted the myth of American exceptionalism. The 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed that American students remained static in reading and science and were well below average in math, falling from 29th to 31st in global rankings. The Campaign for College Opportunity’s "The State of Blacks in Higher Education: The Persistent Opportunity Gap" illustrates the devastating impact of California’s anti-affirmative action policy.
The Campaign for College Opportunity report concluded “that gaps between Blacks and other ethnic groups in college-going and attainment have remained virtually unchanged for more than a decade, and in some cases, have worsened.” Despite claims of increased college opportunities for millennials, “A smaller share of today’s California Black young adult population holds postsecondary degrees than that of Blacks between the ages of 35 and 64.” Put bluntly, in an era in which affirmative action has been viciously discredited and all but gutted by both the Right and neo-liberal “left”, young African Americans are less educated than older African Americans. African American students attend community and for-profit colleges in higher numbers than other groups and have the highest student loan debt and default rates. In addition, black youth still have the lowest graduation rates in California.
In the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the class of 2017 (this year’s 9th graders) will be required to have college prep classes in order to graduate. They must earn a C or better to do so. They will have to achieve this feat despite the Obama administration’s Race to the Top emphasis on high stakes tests that narrow the curriculum, undermine critical thinking and force teachers to be glorified proctors. Nationwide, black students are the least prepared for college, have the lowest enrollment in honors and college prep classes and the highest drop-out or push-out rates. The LAUSD requirement is set against the backdrop of deepening unemployment, prison pipelining and black male homicide rates. According to the Education Trust, “If current trends continue only one in twenty African American students will go on to a four year college or university.” The forty eight black males in UCLA’s incoming class are swimming in a sea of over 5000 new students. Enraged by these stats, black male UCLA students recently released an activist video critique which went viral. But despite renewed attention to racial disparities in college access there is no federal, state or local policy or call to action that specifically addresses the fact that young African American male high school students are routinely dismissed as not being college material.
As the Martin case demonstrated yet again, the dominant culture does not associate young black men and boys with tenderness, caring, sensitivity, and compassion, much less intellectualism. Since white supremacist culture can never see black youth as victims they can only be predators and aggressors. The visceral fear that adults have of so-called black male criminality is one of the primary reasons why black boys are suspended and expelled at higher rates for lesser offenses than are white students.
Youth of color, like white kids, are trained to see explicit acts of individual prejudice as the only standard for racism rather than institutional racism and white supremacy. So when Brandon and I discussed how mass incarceration was devastating our school-communities some of the boys in the group said that “bad environments” and “bad choices” simply lead black youth to commit more crime. But after examining disproportionate crack cocaine use amongst white males and unpacking how legacy admissions policies allow mediocre white students like George W. Bush get into Ivy Leagues the students’ consciousness began to shift. Not seeing themselves in the curriculum, public education socializes them to believe that disproportionate numbers of their brothers and sisters are in prison due to bad choices while college is the reward for the elite few who make good ones. Teaching them to see the connection between the racial politics of college access and the invisibility of Martin’s murder in their high school curriculum is a step toward defying this criminal mis-education.
Sikivu Hutchinson is the founder of the Women's Leadership Project and the author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels and Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
By David Niose:
From Psychology Today
A generation ago a typical humanist group might be little more than a few older, white men meeting in the basement of a Unitarian church, arguing points of philosophy that have little relevance in the real world. That has changed, as atheist and humanist groups have sprung up in a much wider range of settings, from schools to pubs to workplaces, and as young people, women, people of color, gays and lesbians, and others have helped the notion of personal secularity gain traction in the wider population.
But still, despite this expansion, many would like to see the secular movement experience faster and broader growth in African-American and Latino communities. Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson, a Los Angeles author and secular activist, is one of those working to expand the movement in communities of color. With the authority of churches in those communities very strong, she argues that the secular movement is unlikely to challenge that authority unless it firmly addresses issues of social and economic justice. This message resonates with many—especially among those humanists who see such traditionally liberal issues as being central to humanist ethics—but not with everyone. Some would prefer that the movement focus exclusively on church-state separation and other so-called "culture war" issues, for example, while some atheists even describe themselves as conservative. Below, I chat with Hutchinson about her views on this ongoing discussion...More @ http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/our-humanity-naturally/201311/secularism-and-social-justice
Sunday, November 10, 2013
By Sikivu Hutchinson
A white family grieves in outrage after their teenage daughter has been gunned down by a black homeowner in an African American neighborhood. In this parallel universe the killer walks free, enjoying the benefit of being viewed as having defended his home from a violent intruder, while the big city D.A. decides whether or not to charge him.
It is no revelation to many black women in neo-apartheid Americana that being white and female pays deep dividends in everyday life. Among these dividends is the ability to be seen as an innocent victim under dire circumstances and to have the weight of the American criminal justice system behind you upholding that perception. Another is the advantage of secure access to elite suburban enclaves without fear of criminalization. Stranded in the early morning hours after a car crash in a predominantly white suburb outside of Detroit, nineteen year-old Renisha McBride had no such benefits. A recent high school graduate, McBride had just gotten a job at the Ford Motor Company when she was brutally shot in the face by a white male resident after seeking help from the crash. Her family described her as warm and loving. As of this writing her killer has not been apprehended nor charged.
McBride’s killing is part of a long legacy of black female murder victims who have been devalued in a misogynist apartheid system of state-sanctioned violence that thrives on the urban/suburban racial divide. In 2010, seven year-old Aiyanna Jones was murdered by a Detroit police officer in her own home during a botched police raid. In 1999, a homeless fifty four year-old 5 foot black woman named Margaret Mitchell was killed by LAPD officers in an affluent Los Angeles retail district after a dispute over a shopping cart. The officers in the Mitchell case were not charged. The officer in the Jones case was recently granted a retrial after the jury in his initial involuntary manslaughter trial deadlocked. Civil rights activists and community protestors have compared McBride’s killing to that of Trayvon Martin, Emmet Till, Oscar Grant and Amadou Diallo, globally known black male lynching victims whose white killers never saw jail time. But the problem with these comparisons is that they unintentionally minimize lesser known black female victims of white supremacist violence such as Mitchell, Jones, Eulia Love, Eleanor Bumpurs, Alesia Thomas and Mitrice Richardson. Although the circumstances of these women’s deaths were quite different, the lack of sustained national and global attention (relative to black men who have been murdered under similar circumstances) unites them. National civil rights activists and feminist organizations must ask themselves why these names have not become as prominent or high profile in national activism. Mainstream civil rights organizations have long had a sexist, patriarchal blind spot when it comes to critical consciousness about the specific gendered and racialized ways in which black women are demonized, sexualized and criminalized in the U.S. Historically, much of the language around black civil rights uplift has been oriented toward redeeming black men and pathologized black masculinity. In K-12 education, students are typically taught about American history in general and the modern civil rights movement in particular as though they were merely a procession of events spearheaded by Great white men, a few exceptional men of color and Rosa Parks. From MLK to the Black Panthers, black women’s self-determination was never part of the mainstream civil rights’ social justice calculus or platform. Thus redressing the epidemic of intimate partner violence and sexual assault in African American communities has never been a major part of African American civil rights organizing. Nor has the skyrocketing number of black women in prison and the ways in which this regime has led to the exponential increase of black children that are homeless or in foster care.
McBride’s murder underscores how gender, race and segregation intersect in the everyday experiences of black women as policed female bodies. Black women, unlike white women, do not have the social privilege and advantage of the dominant culture’s belief in their feminine “innocence”, “fragility”, gentility or right to be protected from men of another race. But in the justifiable national focus on the criminalization of black men, black women’s daily criminalization—on the highway, in stores, in schools and in the workplace—is minimized. Next to black boys, black girls are the most suspended and expelled student group in the nation. They are typically charged with posing a “threat” or exhibiting “willful defiance”. Black students receive harsher punishments for non-violent offenses than do whites who commit identical or even more serious offenses such as theft or assault. This disparity is a linchpin of the school-to-prison pipeline. Consequently, one of every nineteen black women will be imprisoned during their lives; an atrocity that has had a devastating impact on black families and communities.
The national groundswell of support for Marissa Alexander, a young African American woman who, despite invoking Florida’s stand your ground defense, was sentenced to twenty years in prison after attempting to protect herself against an abusive spouse—has shed a long overdue spotlight on the specific ways in which black female victims of violence are criminalized. Alexander’s well-documented history of spousal abuse didn’t prevent her from being slapped with a mandatory minimum sentence. Conversely, McBride’s killer is still walking free as the Wayne County D.A. “assesses” and “investigates” whether he should even be charged.
McBride was buried this weekend, violently branded as guilty until proven innocent.
Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels.