Not just an 11 year old girl

14 Dec

Here are some headlines reporting on an incident that happened in Grand Rapids, MI last week:

Headlines Dec2017

One of these headlines is not like the others. It’s the one that describes the victim of this “disturbing,” “wrongful” and “embarrassing” incident as not just any 11 year old Michigan Girl but as a black 11 year old Michigan girl.

Now hold up. You may be wondering: why do we always have to make everything about race? I mean, this is a human being. Isn’t that what matters?

Yes.

It matters if anyone is “inappropriately treated” (ABC News) by the police.

And…

If age and gender are relevant to understanding how and why Honestie Hodges was “inappropriately treated”, how is race not also relevant?

Because what we know, based on research across experiences, disciplines and contexts, is that race matters in how a human being is perceived:

race matters in ed

And no, it’s not that race only matters. In fact, what happened to Honestie isn’t actually surprising when you recognize her as black and female and a child in the US. As Ruth Graham wrote in Slate earlier this year, “Black Girls Are Too Often Treated as Older Than They Are—and Suffer for It.” And it’s not news, at least to the African American Policy Forum that black girls are “Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected.”

I would argue that it’s critical for all of us (not just the Black Christian News Network One) to recognize Honestie as both “just” another human being and as a black 11 year old Michigan girl so that we don’t lose sight of our expectations of fair and just treatment, dignity and respect for all, while reckoning with disproportionate violations of those expectations for particular groups of people who are human, just like us. Because unless we see who is being treated unfairly clearly and completely, we can’t effectively address the systemic prejudices, discrimination and inequities that are just setting us up for the next headline.

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