Violent SC Arrest Reflects How African-American Girls Are Disproportionately Disciplined in Schools, Study Author Says

The recent violent arrest of an African-American girl at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina, is prompting outrage on social media under the hashtag #AssaultAtSpringValley, and activists say the incident is just one piece of the larger problems of institutionalized racism and the school-to-prison pipeline.

Girls of color, especially black girls, “face much harsher school discipline than their white peers but are excluded from current efforts to address the school-to-prison pipeline,” according to “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected,” a recent study from Columbia Law School and the African American Policy Forum.

The study, which cites the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), found that, on average, black girls enrolled in New York City and Boston schools are disciplined 10.5 times more than their white counterparts. The rate is even greater than that of black boys, who are disciplined an average of seven times more than white boys, according to the study.

Additionally, black girls are expelled and suspended at higher rates than white girls in New York City and Boston, according to the DOE data cited in the study. In New York City, black girls are expelled 53 times more and suspended 10 times more than their white counterparts, the study found, and in Boston, black girls are expelled 10 times more and suspended 12 times more than white girls.

The study’s lead author, Kimberlé Crenshaw, told ABC News today that the incident in South Carolina is “precisely the example of the broader, systemic problem with having turned our educational system into a school-to-prison pipeline, especially for students of color.”

“School is now a place where punishment and discipline are prioritized over serving students and educating them,” said Crenshaw, a professor of law at Columbia University who specializes in issues of race and gender. “Any moment where a student falls outside scripted behavior becomes an opportunity for law enforcement to come in, criminalizing ordinary things people do every day.”

“This girl not listening to the teacher, though sitting peacefully in her chair, has become justification for law enforcement application of severe coercion and force that led to severe bodily injury,” Crenshaw said.

After video of the incident surfaced this week showing school resource officer Ben Fields violently dragging the girl out of the classroom, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott announced on Wednesday that Fields was fired.

Though an internal investigation determined Fields was not wrong to try and remove the student from the classroom, after being asked to do so from the teacher and a school administrator, the problem was in how he attempted to do that, Lott said.

However, Fields’ lawyer Scott Hayes said in a statement that he believes Fields’ “actions were justified and lawful throughout the circumstances of which he was confronted during this incident,” and that “Fields’ actions were carried out professionally and that he was performing his job duties within the legal threshold.”

But Crenshaw said she believes the root of the problem is the actual legal system that allows people like Fields and Hayes to believe this is OK.

“I think it’s useful to recall that a lot of these statutes like ‘disrupting the classroom’ or ‘disturbing the peace’ have long been historically used to oppress and criminalize black people” such as in the case of “folks who did sit-in demonstrations during the Civil Rightsmovement,” Crenshaw said. “It’s precisely this use of state coercion that was used to maintain racial and colonial relations.”

The incident in the South Carolina is also an example of the double-discrimination of “institutionalized, systemic racism and gender bias in America” that black girls face, according to Crenshaw.

“Black girls are punished, many times violently so, for questioning and challenging authority, which is something that is often celebrated and encouraged as a sign of intelligence and critical thinking in white boys,” she said. “If a parent did to their own kids at home what school resource officer Ben Fields was seen doing on video, “that kind of behavior would land someone in prison or jail for abuse. What makes this perfectly acceptable to some is the pre-existing belief that black children deserve it.”

Crenshaw said she believes that “police officers should be taken out of schools” and that “teachers need to be trained to handle a variety of situations, not just rely on police officers as a crutch.”

“Trouble dealing with a girl looking at her cell phone or not listening is not an appropriate expenditure of a public safety resource,” she said. “We have to move back to the idea that education isn’t about teaching people to bow to rigid rules. That’s not what democracy is about.”

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The world’s first non-white modelling agency – a true celebration of diversity

Launched in London a year ago, Lorde boasts a catalogue of models of colour who challenge the fashion industry’s bias towards Caucasian looks

Models at Lorde model agency.
 Models at Lorde model agency.

Looking at the models on Lorde Inc’s website, the first thing that strikes you is that these people are, to put it in Zoolander’s words, really, really good looking. Ornello has long plaits and a gap between her teeth. Mohammed is all chocolate eyes and wavy locks. And Urjii is cheekbones and expressive stare. The second thing? None of the models – about 60 in all – are white.

Nafisa Kaptownwala, founder of Lorde.
 Nafisa Kaptownwala, founder of Lorde. Photograph: Carly Bangs/Lorde

Lorde was set up in May 2014 as the first of its kind – an agency made up entirely of models of colour. It is the brainchild of Nafisa Kaptownwala, a 26-year-old Canadian art history graduate, who began to work on the fringes of fashion and noticed the lack of non-white models. Despite no experience in the modelling industry, she set up Lorde in London with a friend and “the next thing, people were contacting us”. A year on, and Lorde has worked with magazines including Dazed & Confused and i-D, and collaborated with London streetwear brand Cassette Playa.

Despite these relative triumphs, Kaptownwala is pessimistic about diversity in modelling in 2015. “There’s still not a massive demand because this is still a radical idea and people in fashion are not really ready for it,” she says. “How does that make me feel? In general I think, as a person of colour, you internalise. Creating this agency is a way to channel those feelings.”

Model at Lorde agency.
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 One of Lorde’s models. Photograph: JM Stasiuk

If diversity – across age, race and size – is always a swirl of debate in fashion, there seems to be the signs of change, with Balmain’s Olivier Roustein (himself mixed race) championing a catwalk of all sorts of ethnicities, Rihanna becoming the first black woman in a Dior campaign and Lineisy Montero walking the Prada catwalkwith a visible afro. “Things are changing but in a minimal way,” acknowledges Kaptownwala. “But there were more models of colour on the catwalk in the 90s than there are now. It kind of goes in cycles.” She praises former model Bethan Hardison’s campaign to increase diversity on the catwalk at major brands but says “two models in a show of 30 models is not enough”.

Male model at Lorde agency.
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 One of Lorde’s male models. Photograph: JM Stasiuk

The dominance of white faces in fashion means her job, compared to that of a model booker at a larger agency, is a lot harder. “They work with everyone and we are fulfilling a niche,” she says. “The beauty standards are that the European is the epitome of what’s marketable, and not just to European consumers. I have spoken to magazines in Japan who only use Japanese and European models.”

Kaptownwala believes the internet – and the culture of selfies – has a role to play in broadening what we think beautiful is, and has made an entire generation comfortable in front of the camera. “People are posing in their own ways, creating their own photo shoots,” she says. “It redefines beauty, opens things up and allows people to say ‘I want to be part of this.’”

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Ghanaian millionaire quits Microsoft to build university that Educates young Africans

At a time when quite a number of Africans queue up at the embassies of foreign countries, with the hope of being granted visas into countries with ‘better living conditions’, a rare few like Patrick Awuah are sacrificing that to make a difference by returning home.

In 2001, after living in America for almost two decades, Patrick Awuah returned to Ghana, leaving his job at Microsoft, where he earned millions as program manager to set up Ashesi University in Accra, to educate young Africans. “If the current leadership core was educated a certain way, if they were problem solvers, if they had deep compassion for society, we would be in a different place,” he thought. Hence, Ashesi University is known for its innovative curriculum, high tech facilities, and strong emphasis on leadership. The University stirs a new path in African education.

In his TED Global talk in 2007, Patrick Awuah explains his call to educate Africa’s future leaders, and why he believes this is very important.

At the age of 16 in Ghana, Patrick Awuah had his first memorable experience of leadership. At the airport to meet his father, he is stopped by two soldiers wielding AK-47 assault weapons. “They asked me to join a crowd of people that were running up and down this embankment. Why? Because the path I had taken was considered out of bounds. No sign to this effect,” he noted.

Typical of teenagers, Patrick was quite concerned of what his peers, especially girls, would think if they saw him running up and down the hill. So he argued with soldiers. Luckily for him, a pilot falls into the same predicament. The soldiers addressed him differently because he wore a uniform; they explained that they were only following orders. The pilot takes their radio, talks to their boss, and gets everyone released. Patrick learnt several things from that experience. “Leadership matters – those men are following the orders of a superior officer. I learned something about courage – it was important not to look at those guns.”

A few years after that event, Patrick left Ghana to attend Swarthmore College in the United States. “The faculty there didn’t want us to memorise information and repeat back to them as I was used to back in Ghana. They wanted us to think critically. They wanted us to be analytical. They wanted us to be concerned about social issues.” At Swarthmore, Patrick got high marks for his understanding of basic economics in his economic classes, but the deeper lesson was that, the leaders, the managers of Ghana’s economy were making really bad decisions, some of which had fuelled the near-collapse of the country’s economy. “And so here was this lesson again – leadership matters. It matters a great deal,” he explained.

In spite of Patrick’s Epiphany at Swarthmore, it wasn’t until he started working at Microsoft Corporation that he realised it. “I was part of this team, this thinking, learning team whose job it was to design and implement new software that created value in the world…. And I realised just what had happened to me at Swarthmore … The ability to confront problem, complex problems, and to design solutions to those problems. The ability to create is the most empowering thing that can happen to an individual.”

At Microsoft, Patrick became a parent. The thought of his children’s perception of Africa in comparison to the rest of the world instigated a desire to return home and change the overwhelming narrative that portrayed the dark continent. He was determined to contribute his quota towards the continents development.

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On his return 14 years ago, he found out that for every problem three things kept coming up; corruption, weak institutions, and the people who run them – the leaders. Patrick asked two very important questions: where are these leaders coming from? What is it about Ghana that produces leaders that are unethical or unable to solve problems?

In search of answers, he scanned the country’s educational system and realised that nothing had changed during his time away. “It was the same learning by rote, from primary school through graduate school. Very little emphasis on ethics … and the typical graduate from a university in Ghana has a stronger sense of entitlement than a sense of responsibility. This is wrong.” Patrick’s resolve to address this problem resulted in the conception and birth of Ashesi University, an institution launched to develop young African leaders. “Every society must be very intentional about educating its leaders … so this is what I’m doing now. I’m trying to bring the experience I had at Swarthmore to Africa. What Ashesi University is trying to do, is to train a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial leaders. We’re trying to train leaders of exceptional integrity, who have the ability to confront the complex problems, ask the right questions, and come up with workable solutions.”

Ashesi started with 30 students in 2002 in a rented building. Today the university campus is set on a 100 acre land near Aburi, an hour’s drive from Ghana’s capital, Accra, with over 500 students. The academic curriculum is a blend of Liberal arts and Sciences. “we’re going to educate computer science students who’ve also done philosophy, and leadership, and ethics … we’re going to educate business majors who’ve studied literature and have also done computer programming because we think that broad perspectives are important,” a bullish Patrick told the audience at the TEDEx talk.

The university has an Honour Code, where the students pledge to be honest and to hold each other accountable. The students of Ashesi University take ownership of their ethical posture on campus. “This is a huge break from the norm in most African universities, where corrupt practices run free,”Patrick says. “While the Honour Code may constitute a reach for a perfect society, which is unachievable, we cannot achieve perfection, but if we reach for it, we can achieve excellence.”

If more exceptionally minded and critical thinking individuals like Patrick Awuah would rise to the occasion of transforming Africa, the continent will make great strides in ridding itself off corruption, weak institutions, and most importantly unethical and inefficient leaders.

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James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965): Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?


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