We all know that black girls are disciplined more harshly for the same infractions as their white peers in schools (and life), but a new study shows that part of this disparity is linked to school-uniform policies.
The National Women’s Law Center recently looked at school dress codes in Washington, D.C., and found that black girls are unnecessarily and predominantly penalized under uniform rules.
In fact, because humans in their unconscious and implicit biases are the ones who enforce rules around dress codes, it goes without saying that sexism, racism and traditional gender roles play a part.
According to the study, black girls were found to often be in violation of dress codes for so-called infractions like being “unladylike,” “inappropriate” or “distracting to the boys around them.”
Also, it should be noted that African-American girls’ bodies are often different from their Caucasian peers, and so a short skirt on a girl with curves is seen differently from one on a smaller girl.
The point being, it’s the same damn skirt.
Most jarringly, the report found that pulling black girls out of class or sending them home for these transgressions adversely affects their ability to learn in school.
Grace, a 17-year-old black senior at D.C.’s Duke Ellington School for the Arts, told me that the dress code at her school gives teachers and administrators a lot of discretion in determining when a student is wearing something inappropriate.
“I’ve been told about my bra, whether I’m wearing one, the type that I’m wearing,” she said. “It makes me uncomfortable.”
“I was sent home because I had a bit of splattered paint on my shoe,” says Ceon, a 16-year-old black student who attends D.C.’s Phelps A.C.E. High School. On another occasion, she couldn’t go to class for a full day because her pants weren’t navy blue, a violation of her school uniform. “It didn’t make sense,” she says.
The report notes that 81 percent of D.C. schools require a uniform, and also shows that not only are black girls’ bodies policed, but so are their culturally relevant hairstyles and even head wraps and scarves.
“If schools are places where we are supposed to be training to think ... we need to be treated as such,” said Grace. “There are far more pressing issues inside of schools than what a student wears.”