Op-Ed: Criminalized for Candy Swiping? How Society Silences, Scars Our Black Girls

After tech executive turned feminist activist and author Sheryl Sandberg published her bestselling book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, she quickly began to focus her conversations on our dire need for female leaders towards the socialization of young girls.  In fact, one of her major campaigns , #banbossy, was developed to help parents, teachers and others learn how to encourage girls to be assertive and “sit at the table” in order to become trailblazers, without using the kind of dispiriting language and actions that makes girls unsure of themselves as they grow into the kinds of women who lack the confidence they need to chase their dreams inside and outside of the workplace.

Or White girls, at least.

As the mother of a Black girl, who I am desperately trying to raise as proud and free in a world that seeks to snatch both pride and freedom from her, I want to, of course, teach my daughter to “lean in.” I want my daughter, and every Black girl, to stand tall and be their best selves.  But, there are moments, daily reminders in fact, when I remember that teaching her to assert herself in this world might mean compromising her dignity, her safety, or even her life.  It occurs to me– even as I read the story of six-year-old Madisyn Moore being handcuffed by a school security guard– that Black girls aren’t even allowed to have moments where they are uncooperative or unresponsive without being humiliated, assaulted, or worse by those charged with their protection and upliftment.

How can Black girls learn the kind of assertiveness that will make them future leaders, when they aren’t even allowed space to be human, when they are criminalized for simply having bad days?

Allegedly Madisyn Moore, a baby barely out of kindergarten, took something that didn’t belong to her. For this minor infraction, a school security guard (because, yes, security guards and police officers are often on staff at even elementary schools) decided he needed to teach Madisyn a lesson by accosting her and leading her out of her classroom embarrassed, in pain, and handcuffed.  Black girls like Madison learn at an early age that stepping out of line, which is often what “leaning in” requires, might lead to serious trouble.  Trouble that, if a Black girl is lucky, might only include suspension, or a lesson learned through the pain of handcuffs and a release to their parents.

It could always be worse, we know.

Read the full op-ed in Ebony.