New documentary examines why Black girls are punished more in schools

school classroom
perspective wooden plate over blur classroom for background

Even though Black women are the most educated demographic in the country, they are also more harshly disciplined at school, according to research. A new documentary is now trying to get to the bottom of why that is.

According to CBS News, a study conducted by the National Women’s Law Center in 2017 found that Black girls are more than five times more likely to be suspended than white girls. They are also six times more likely to be expelled.

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In a the  documentary, called “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools,” Black teens open up about the skewed way they are treated by school authorities.

“I was basically bullied, or felt bullied, by my teacher,” Samaya Dillard, who is featured in the film, told CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan.

Dillard, 13, recalls a jarring incident in second grade that lead to a teacher physically dragging her outside.

“She then grabbed my chair that I was sitting in and dragged me across the room to the door and sat me outside,” Dillard recounted.

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“And this was the day before Christmas break,” her father, Jason Dillard, said.

“And then what happens,” Duncan asked.

“So I just decided to leave,” she responded.

Her story of abuse made local news in Sacramento and also had a lasting effect on the young women’s mental state.

“You were near a freeway. In the documentary you say, ‘Everything could be easier if I just jumped,'” Duncan notes.

“Yeah,” said Dillard.

“You thought about ending your life at the age of 7?” the Duncan asked, to which the child again said “Yes,” before explaining she felt confused and helpless at the time.

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The Dillard family settled a lawsuit against both the school and the teacher in question. The school district also issued a statement saying, “We hope that her story, and the stories of others will help other districts as it continues to help us.”

Disturbing stories like this one are what inspired educator and author Monique W. Morris to make this documentary in an effort to raise awareness about what Black girls experience from those entrusted with their care.

“You really begin to pick up on the stories across the country. You start to recognize that this is actually a pattern of violence against Black girls,” Morris said.

The filmmaker also notes that she believes “Black girlhood and womanhood is constructed by these ideas in our society — of them being hypersexual, of them being loud and angry.”

“I want people to walk away from this documentary understanding, number one, that our girls are not disposable… and to really think about how we can shift our understanding of what constitutes a bad attitude or sassiness or combativeness,” Morris said.

Last month the film was screened at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and will air nationwide on PBS in 2020.