Foundation Report Exposes the Reality of Lived Race-Based Inequality in Pittsburgh

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October 14, 2016; PublicSource

Some may believe that once the formal external artifacts of racism are eradicated, the job is close to done. But their removal leaves in place powerful internal filters and historically anchored barriers that continue to make a big difference in Black communities.

The Black Lives Matter movement has provided a moment where this reality may get through to institutions and the public so the country can continue to learn (and sometimes acknowledge) how implicit bias and institutional racism affect the day-to-day living of this country’s children of color and determine future success. In line with this, last week, a new report funded by the FISA Foundation and the Heinz Endowments provided us with shocking insight into how different it is for black and white girls to grow up in Pittsburgh.

Written by Dr. Sara Goodkind, Associate Professor of Social Work, Sociology, and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, “Snapshot: Inequities Affecting Black Girls in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County” looks at the especially difficult daily path black girls walk, encountering challenges that detrimentally affect their health, well-being, and education. Black girls are almost three times more likely to live in poverty than their white peers. They see more trauma—they’re nine times as likely to have experienced someone close to them being murdered, and eleven times more likely to be referred to juvenile court than are white girls.

This trouble is amplified by often-subtle institutional biases. Sixteen-year-old Kelis Campbell, an 11th grader at the Barack Obama Academy of International Studies, described to PublicSource’s Jeffrey Benzing what she came to realize when she was just a seventh grader: For a black woman, “everything we do is kind of like breaking through a door. Sad to say, I’ve kind of gotten used to it.”

For example, is talking in class a sign of enthusiasm and “kids being kids,” or a sign of disrespect that calls for “shushing,” or perhaps an even stronger response? The answer seems to depend on whether you are white or black, male or female. In Ms. Campbell’s words, “As soon as it’s the flip side and it’s like the black girls making noise, you see how the teacher automatically shuts it down.”

Sarah Brown, program manager for TeenBloc, told Public Source that speaking out can be rationalized or even applauded as assertiveness or taking leadership—when the students are white. For black girls, it’s “defiance or disrespect for authority.” And often they are punished when they were defending themselves against some sort of harassment.

Black girls end up being suspended three times more often than their white peers. Suspension is more than just the loss of a day or two of class time, it serves to limit a child’s future: “Suspensions from school are consistently associated with lower academic performance. As a suspended child’s education is interrupted…she is more likely to fall behind, to become disengaged from school, and to drop out.”

Pittsburgh in this case could stand in for many other major urban areas. The report reminds us of the reality of institutionally sanctioned microaggressions, something we must all acknowledge and hold ourselves responsible to eradicate.—Martin Levine and Ruth McCambridge