In the wake of viral footage capturing the violent arrest of a Black teenage student by a school resource officer, a debate between those outraged by the now-fired Deputy Ben Fields’ actions and those who defended him has emerged. It’s a familiar, sinister one that continues to haunt Black women and girls wherever they go. It’s an argument grounded by the insinuation that Black girls who show even just a hint of emotion, somehow, deserve what they get.
While both sides expressed discomfort with the officer’s use of force, Fields’ defenders placed heightened emphasis on the unknown events before the cameras start rolling, insisting, in the words of Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, that the incident “started with her and ended with [the] officer.”
We may never know exactly how the unnamed student initially “disturbed” the class, however at least two videos capture a bird’s-eye view of an agitated Fields manhandling the female student after she stubbornly refuses to rise from her desk and exit the classroom.
To put it briefly, homegirl had an attitude and, in response to her blatant disobedience of his direct orders, Fields violently reasserted his authority (and doctored his bruised ego) by assaulting a teenage girl right before our very eyes.
`The institutionalized narrative of the “black girl with an attitude” has spawned a trend where racism and classism intersect to police both the bodies and the emotions of Black women and girls.
Perceived as inherently angry and volatile, Black girls experiencing adolescent angst find themselves disproportionately condemned and demonized compared to their White counterparts. In fact, according to data from the United States Department of Education, Black girls are six times more likely to be punished in school than white girls nationally, and in New York City, alone, Black girls are punished ten times more often, a Columbia Law School report found.
Punished for what, exactly? A separate study documenting disciplinary cases for Black girls in school found that most of the girls were penalized for behaviors vaguely identified as “disobedience” or “defiance.”
Still, the unfair criminalization of Black girls and their moods is, in no way, exclusive to the classroom. From Sandra Bland’s minor traffic violation to Dajerria Becton’s trip to a local pool, we’ve witnessed time and again how racialized and gendered policing can have violent and, potentially, fatal consequences for women of color.
The trope of the hostile and combative Black woman poisons the national psyche in such a way that it sanctions the use of brute and excessive force for the mere audacity to convey human emotion. Trapped in a form of emotional captivity, Black women find themselves robbed of the freedom to connect and engage with their inner selves, lest their lives depend on it.
As these incidents pile up, they not only leave physical scars on the individual victims, but psychological scars on the greater population of Black women and girls en masse.
Apparently, having an attitude is only a criminal offense when you’re a Black girl.
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