By Guest Contributor Sikivu Hutchinson; originally published at Feminist Wire
High stakes test question: a female science student conducts an experiment with chemicals that explode in a classroom, causing no damage and no injuries. Who gets to be the adventurous teenage genius scientist and who gets to be the criminal led away in handcuffs facing two felonies to juvenile hall? If you’re a white girl, check Box A; if you’re an intellectually curious black girl with good grades, check Box B.
When 16 year-old Kiera Wilmot was arrested and expelled from Bartow High School in Florida for a science experiment gone awry, it exemplified a long American-as-apple pie tradition of criminalizing black girls. In many American classrooms black children are treated like ticking time bomb savages, shoved into special education classes, disproportionately suspended and expelled–then warehoused in opportunity schools, juvenile jails, and adult prisons. Yet, while national discourse on the connection between school discipline and mass incarceration typically focuses on black males, black girls are suspended more than boys of every other ethnicity (except black males). At a Georgia elementary school in 2012, a six-year-old African American girl was handcuffed by the police after throwing a tantrum in the principal’s office.[i] Handcuffing disruptive black elementary school students is not uncommon. It is perhaps the most extreme example of black children’s initiation into what has been characterized as the school-to-prison pipeline, or, more accurately, the cradle-to-grave pipeline. Stereotypes about dysfunctional violent black children ensure that the myth of white children’s relative innocence is preserved.