Ayanna Pressley Introduces Legislation to End the ‘Pushout’ of Black Girls

(L-R)Naomi Wadler, Judith Browne Dianis, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Wakumi Douglas, Lindsa McIntyre, Sade Ratliff, R. Monique Morris
Photo: Michael Harriot (The Root/G-O)

We are all magicians.

This country practices a particular kind of wizardry that can make black votes disappear; turn a black radical into a whitewashed moderate and hypnotize an entire population into somehow believing that “illegal immigrants” can trespass on stolen land.

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But the most wondrous trick of all is how we treat black girls. We put them in a box and saw them in half. We turn them into villains. And then, right before our eyes, we pull out our magic wand and make black girls vanish into thin air. This is “pushout.

This is America’s version of “Black Girl Magic.”

Across the country, black and brown girls are disproportionately disciplined and penalized by an education system that criminalizes non-white students and forces them out of schools. Black girls are disciplined more harshly over dress codes and hair policies. Black girls are seven times more likely to be suspended from school and four times more likely to be arrested at school, compared to white girls, according to a study by Black Girls Matter. This pervasive societal problem is chronicled in the upcoming documentary Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.

Produced by Dr. Monique Morris, the film documents the stories of black girls who became victims of this insidious practice, including that of Samaya Dillard, a student who was dragged out of her second-grade classroom after an argument with a classmate. Samaya was left outside to wander the streets and contemplated suicide before her parents found her and put her in therapy.

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She was seven years old.

Morris’ documentary debuted in September in front of an audience that included Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass). Pressley wasn’t just moved by inspirational but troubling stories presented in the film, she decided to do something about it.

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“Education is the equalizer and families are the stabilizer,” said Pressley in a statement announcing legislation aimed at ending the pushout of girls of color. “But too many Black and Brown families have been destabilized by violence, abuse, poverty and discrimination. Not only are our girls carrying trauma from their personal lives when they enter school, but for far too many schools have become a place that criminalizes and harms girls of color.”

Pressley, along with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) are sponsoring the “Ending Punitive, Unfair, School-based Harm that is Overt and Unresponsive to Trauma (P.U.S.H.O.U.T) Act,” aimed at disrupting the cycle of punitive policies that marginalizes and criminalizes black and brown girls. The comprehensive legislative proposal aims to stop the school-to-confinement pipeline by:

  • Establishing $2.5 billion in new federal grants to support states and schools that revamp discriminatory school discipline practices, provide educational development and hire mental health professionals, counselors and social workers.
  • Requiring the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to collect and share civil rights data and enforce civil rights laws
  • Establishing a federal taskforce to examine school discipline policies and their disproportionate impact on girls of color
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“We as a society are desensitized to the pain and trauma of black girls,” said Congresswoman Omar. “Punitive approaches to education do not help our children get an education. I am so proud to work on this bill with Representative Ayanna Pressley to create safe and nurturing school environments—by investing in trauma-informed policies, enforcing civil rights laws, and establishing a task force to end this crisis.”

Pushout will air on PBS in March 2020.

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About the author

Michael Harriot

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.