AAPF Co-Founder Kimberlé Crenshaw

The respected law professor and Co-Founder of the African American Policy Forum discusses the organization’s recent report, entitled “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected.”

A respected scholar on law and race, Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw splits her time between the UCLA and Columbia law schools. The Harvard alum co-founded the African American Policy Forum and was a founding member of the Women's Media Initiative. She's lectured internationally and facilitated workshops for civil rights activists in Brazil and constitutional court judges in South Africa. The AAPF has recently released a new report titled, Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected.


Tavis: Kimberlé Crenshaw is the cofounder of the African American Policy Forum and professor at both the UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School. The African American Policy Forum has just released a powerful new report. It’s entitled “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected”.

The report calls for an equitable approach to supporting the needs of Black women and girls as well as Black men and boys. Kimberlé, good to have you back on this program.

Kimberlé Crenshaw: It’s always a pleasure, Tavis.

Tavis: When I first saw this, I said to myself it’s about time. And I said it’s about time because so much–obviously, I’m a Black male and I’ve got seven younger brothers, so I have no problem per se with the attention that Black boys have been given even by the White House with the program…

Crenshaw: “My Brother’s Keeper”.

Tavis: “My Brother’s Keeper” program that President Obama announced some months ago. But why is that the boys get all the attention and the Black girls don’t?

Crenshaw: Well, that’s a question that we’ve been asking for a while. What we were most concerned about was the inferences that people draw from the fact that most of the conversation about things like under-achievement and the school to prison pipeline had focused so exclusively on boys.

It led people to believe that girls weren’t facing similar kinds of problems. And when people don’t know that their own community members, their own daughters, their wives and mothers aren’t facing similar kinds of problems, there isn’t really the same kind of public will to address those problems.

Tavis: But the numbers that I see most often–I suspect others who see these same numbers–the numbers suggest that Black girls are doing much better than Black boys. It’s not the Black girls that we hear are on probation or in prison or on parole.

Black women are getting degrees. They’re going to college. They’re making money. They’re independent. They’re doing their own thing. They tell the rest of us to the left, to the left [laugh]. I mean, my point is, the narrative that we get does not suggest that Black girls or Black women are in trouble.

Crenshaw: And that’s precisely the problem. It’s a narrative. So just starting from beyond the report, if you look at the median net wealth for Black women, it’s $100. That means that most Black women have $100 or less.

When you think about wealth, wealth determines where you live, where you can send your kids to school, what kinds of extracurricular activities you can provide for them.

Wealth is really a significant marker of well-being and Black women just don’t have much of it. Black women also make less than pretty much everybody else. So we don’t know these numbers because these aren’t the kids of crises that we look at.

We tend to look at prison. We tend to look at homicide. Those are all high numbers for Black men and boys, but what we don’t notice is that there are high numbers for Black women and girls as well. So homicide is the number one cause of death for young women up to the age of 26. Black girls…

Tavis: Homicide is?

Crenshaw: Homicide, yes, yes, and people don’t know that. People don’t know that Black girls are the fastest growing group of young people who are incarcerated. So there are a lot of pieces of the puzzle that we don’t get when we don’t look at the community as a whole.

Tavis: When I saw this report, I was struck even by the title of it. So I want to give you time now in the time that I have left to unpack this title for me. “Black Girls Matter”, I get that. “Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected”. Pushed out?

Crenshaw: So pushed out is basically a concept that a lot of the reason why so many of our young people don’t graduate is that there’s certain kinds of aspects of school that effectively service push-out.

Sometimes they’re intentional push-out, like a lot of the girls that we talked to were pushed out because they got into fights or the teacher saw them as belligerent, as difficult to deal with, and they’d rather just not have them in the school.

So some things effectively push them out. Sometimes the conditions make them want to leave. Girls talk about the metal detectors. They talk about the police in schools. They talk about being sexually harassed and bullied in school.

Some girls leave school because they don’t want to become part of the juvenile justice system and they know they will if they end up defending themselves. So there’s a push-out dimension of it that we wanted to capture for girls.

Tavis: Overpoliced?

Crenshaw: So overpolicing is part of the school to prison pipeline. So there’s been a long conversation for the last 20 years or so about how boys are pushed out because of punitive measures. Girls are also pushed out for punitive measures. Many times, teachers interpret Black girls’ attitude as being defiant, as being difficult.

It’s that same kind of stereotype that applies to Black people as a whole. They’re aggressive, but when it’s a girl who’s aggressive, that’s even more problematic. So girls often get pushed out for some of the same behaviors that a boy might not be.

Tavis: And underprotected?

Crenshaw: And underprotected is, basically, we wanted to capture the idea that, although the justification for all of these policies was to make school safer and therefore make people more invested in school, in fact, it had the opposite effect. Girls don’t feel safer in school. They don’t feel that they’re able to express themselves. They don’t feel that they can defend themselves.

One girl talked about how a boy was harassing her and she told him to stop. He hit her. They were both expelled. So this overpolicing does not lead to protection. It actually makes girls less invested in school and less able to really achieve.

Tavis: There are a lot of people who supported Barack Obama. I raise that to ask whether or not you think the presence of Michelle Obama and the exposure she’s received and the fact that we’ve able to see how sharp and how brilliant she really is has–and their two brilliant precious girls.

That has had no impact on the narrative of Black women in America? Not that all that rests on three people, but you got a Black woman, you got two beautiful Black girls. We’re talking about Black women.

Crenshaw: Yeah, and I think–of course, it’s been a wonderful thing for African American women to see Black women in the White House. You know, there’s Valerie Jarrett as well. You know, in terms of imagery, it’s a wonderful thing.

But in the same way that President Obama being in the White House doesn’t eliminate all the crises of the Black boys that he is very rightly concerned with, neither does Michelle Obama being in the White House do the same thing for the vast majority of young girls and women who are actually fighting some pretty serious conditions.

So Black women, Black men, Black girls, Black boys, they live in the same neighborhoods. They go to the same schools. They struggle in the same job market. They struggle against the police and that’s another big issue. Black women are also killed by the police.

So some of the problem is that we look at those images and think that they’re representative of women across the board. And when you don’t have information or the information that exists is just about the boys, it leads people to the wrong inference.

Tavis: What strikes me as interesting now is that Barack Obama, to be clear, has a lot more powerful Black women around him than he does Black men, which makes me wonder why they came up with a program for Black boys and we have not seen the kind of focus on Black girls.

Crenshaw: Well, you know, the focus on Black boys is not new. The focus on the idea that Black men are disproportionately harmed by racism, you know, is not new. So it’s not surprising that people accept these kinds of ideas. The thing is that everyone is basically hobbled by an information desert on what happens to women and girls.

So if you ask people who gets expelled the most or if you ask people where’s the greatest level of racial disparity in discipline and expulsion, everyone will tell you it’s boys. And you don’t know that in fact the greater racial disparity is between girls.

Black girls are 10 times more likely to be suspended than white girls in New York, 11 times more likely in Boston, whereas boys, it’s six times more likely and eight times more likely. So there’s a greater racial disparity in what happens to women and we don’t have language to really talk about that.

Tavis: Here’s my exit question. What makes you hopeful? The numbers in the report are clear and I would like people to go get a copy of the report and read it for themselves. But what makes you hopeful about the future of Black girls?

Crenshaw: I’m hopeful because the call has been answered all around the country. We’ve been having town hall meetings where we’ve asked girls and women of color to come and tell their stories to the public, to their communities, to their families. We’ve had them in Chicago, here in Los Angeles, in New York. We’re going to have one in Baltimore and D.C.

So basically, people are open to have the conversation and I think women and girls are at the point now where they’re secure that telling their stories is not saying that what’s happening to men and boys isn’t important. It’s just saying that our entire community is important. If we’re going to lift them up as a whole, we have to see women and girls as part of that whole.

Tavis: The new report from the African American Policy Forum is called “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected”. Kimberlé Crenshaw runs that program.

If you go to our website, pbs.org, we will get you linked up where you can get a copy of it or read it for yourself. Kimberlé, thanks for your work. Good to have you back on this program.

Crenshaw: Always a pleasure.

Earle: Thanks.

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Last modified: March 2, 2015 at 3:30 pm