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‘A Battle for the Souls of Black Girls’

  • October 01, 2020

“We’ve been in school growing our minds so that we can challenge things,” she said. “But when we do so, we’re punished for it.”

Black girls are viewed by educators as more suspicious, mature, provocative and aggressive than their white peers, said Rebecca Epstein, the executive director of the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality and an author of the first robust study of “adultification bias” against Black girls. The study found that Black girls as young as 5 were viewed by adults as less innocent than white girls.

“Developmentally, Black girls and white girls are the same — regardless of any differences in outward presentation,” she said.

The Binghamton lawsuit, filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund last year against the Binghamton City School District, will test whether such studies can translate into legal recourse.

The organization argued that administrators “were motivated by false race- and gender-based stereotypes in directing, facilitating and conducting these unlawful searches” on Ms. McKinstry’s daughter and three other 12-year-old Black girls. The school nurse who conducted the searches called the girls “loud, disrespectful and having ‘attitudes,’” the complaint said. It accused the nurse of commenting that the breasts of one of the girls were unusually large for her age and of invoking the “stereotypical view of Black girls as older and more mature than white girls of similar age.”

“This case is about the criminalization of Black childhood,” said Cara McClellan, a lawyer who is representing the girls.

Last month, a Syracuse, N.Y., judge ruled that the case could go forward on unlawful search claims but granted the school district’s motion to dismiss the race discrimination charge, in part because the complaint’s data was not recent or granular enough to show that administrators targeted the girls because of their race. He wrote that the “defects in plaintiffs’ complaint” were technical and that a “better pleading could cure them.” The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund plans to amend its filing to bolster its race discrimination claims.

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