Anita Johnson, Black Girl, black identity, Black Lives Matter, Deputy Ben Fields, Dr. Monique W. Morris, Hard Knock Radio, identity politics, KPFA, Lenny Kravitz, Marcus Books (Oakland, Massive Attack, National Black Women's Justice Institute, Pacifica Radio Network, Protection, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, school-to-prison pipeline, The Coup, The Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality (Georgetown Law), Too Beautiful For Words, trauma-informed care
LUMPENPROLETARIAT Today’s episode of free speech radio’s Hard Knock Radio introduces many of us to what is poised to be an important book, not to mention an important scholar. Dr. Monique W. Morris, who holds a Doctor of Education doctoral degree, has published Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in School.
This is a timely book and a timely radio broadcast, given the racist demagoguery of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump (who, for example, invokes fascist icon Benito Mussolini) and the dangerous opportunism of Democrat contender Hillary Clinton (whose bloodied hands have helped overthrow the democratically-elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, and caused the Central American nation to become one of the most dangerous places on Earth for peace and justice workers; she makes Margaret Thatcher seem tame).
Free speech radio’s Hard Knock Radio spoke with Dr. Monique W. Morris about one of the sharpest tools used by reactionaries toward divisiveness and conquest, the unscientific concept of race—more technically understood as ethnicity, or phenotype—and its intersections with gender and other identities toward an emancipatory understanding of black femininity. Listen here. 
[Partial transcript draft by Messina for Lumpenproletariat and Hard Knock Radio]
HARD KNOCK RADIO—[24 MAR 2016] (c. 1:11) “What’s up, fam. You’re tuned to Hard Knock, here on the Pacifica [Radio] Network. On today’s show, we bring you Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools. All this and more ahead, but first these News Headlines.”
[News Headlines omitted by scribe]
ANITA JOHNSON: (c. 6:45) “Wussup, fam? You are tuned in to Hard Knock on the Pacifica Network. I’m Anita Johnson.
“News surrounding the violent removal of a student by a school resource officer in South Carolina made national headlines last year, while raising new questions about the role race plays in the disciplining of black girls. School officials asked Deputy Ben Fields to not return to the school during the investigation and quickly moved to downplay the incident. But video of the violent altercation, recorded by students, shows something more complicated. By the end of the incident, the resource officer had picked her up from the desk and thrown her several feet across the classroom.
“This is just one incident, of many, that have played out across the country, in which reported misconduct by black girls at schools prompt a seemingly disproportionate, and often violent, response by school and local authorities. But why? That’s what Monique W. Morris set out to explain in her new book, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, ‘an examination of the experiences of black girls across the country, whose intricate lives are misunderstood—highly judged by teachers, administrators, and the justice system—and degraded by the very institutions charged with helping them fluorish.’
“In her new book, Morris shows ‘how, despite obstacles, stigmas, stereotypes, and despair, black girls still find ways to breathe remarkable dignity into their lives in classrooms, juvenile facilities, and beyond.’
“Miss Monique W. Morris, once again, welcome to the programme.” (c. 8:19)
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “Thank you. Thanks for having me on.”
ANITA JOHNSON: “Nah, absolutely. I was hoping, uh, in the past I was very hopeful that we would have you as a regular contributor. I want to throw that out there right now, back into the universe with the hopes that we can maybe, uh, at some point in her busy professional career, maybe have her bless Hard Knock Radio listeners with her insight on a regular basis.
“But, today, let’s focus on the new book, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.
“What was the genesis of Pushout and, for you, why now?”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “Thanks for asking that question. It has long been on my soul, the need for us to address what is happening with our girls in schools and to, specifically, look at the ways black girls are vulnerable to criminalisation and victimisation and contact with the criminal and juvenile legal systems.
“And, so, writing Pushout, with the subtitle, The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, was really about expanding the discussion about what most people understand as the school-to-prison pipeline to engage our girls, to engage our young women, to talk about some of the unique pathways, that render them vulnerable to contact with the criminal and juvenile legal systems, some of the conditions, that take place in our schools and that impact their learning in a way, that rendered them vulnerable to contact with the justice system.
“And, so, in many ways, Pushout is an extension of a conversation, that I’ve been having since the 1990s [laughs]—”
ANITA JOHNSON: “Wow.”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “—when I first started doing work on juvenile justice and young people who are in contact with the justice system.
“And this work—you know, I say in the first part of this book that this work was really coming to fruition at the time that I wrote the novel, Too Beautiful for Words. And some may remember Too Beautiful for Words as a street novel, that was inspired by The Coup‘s song, “Me and Jesus the Pimp in a ’79 Granada Last Night“. (c. 10:27)
ANITA JOHNSON: “M-hm.”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “And the novel, itself, talks about prostitution. It talks about revolution. It talks about life and hustle. And, in the process of going around and talking to young people about Too Beautiful for Words, I discovered many girls and young women, who were in detention facilities, who had been pushed out, who had been marginalised in their learning, and, therefore, extremely vulnerable to underground economies, that rendered them vulnerable to contact with the criminal and juvenile legal systems.
ANITA JOHNSON: “Mm.”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “So, this book, in many ways, is an extension of the questioning and the discussions, that I started in Too Beautiful for Words, but really from a more, you know, non-fiction statistics and narrative driven discussion about the policies and practices, that are making our girls vulnerable.” (c. 11:22) [SNIP]
[SNIP] (c. 29:08)
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “[SNIP] Or, you know, the professionals will send me a note and say: I just got into that with my supervisor, as you were just saying.
“And it is something that other scholars, on whose shoulders I stand on have tried to explain and tried to explore. And, somehow, we have yet to, sort of, traverse that threshold into a space where folks will clearly understand that our expressions of femininity are our expressions. Or, the norms, that are associated with our understanding of how to be strong and lead with conviction are not worthy of others’ scrutiny and criminalisation.
“And we have long-lived—and this is something, that I talk about in Pushout—is that we have long lived in this public gaze, that renders black femininity as angry, or that renders black feminine expression of critical thinking as an affront to authority. (c. 30:10)
“And these are critical intervention points—[laughs]—”
ANITA JOHNSON: “Right.”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “—and opportunities for there to be some very deep understanding, some corrective action around what biases are informing that read—”
ANITA JOHNSON: “Absolutely.”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “—and how we teach our girls that they can absolutely speak their truths without being vulnerable to criminalisation.
“You know, this attitude—I spent an entire chapter talking about this so-called [a’tude], which I say is, actually, an open inquiry for me, which means we don’t really have an answer. Right? We don’t really know what is an attitude.
“I’m sure there are some listeners who are like, I know what an attitude is.”
ANITA JOHNSON: “[laughs]”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “My daughter has one.
“But the truth of the matter is it’s such a subjective term. And it’s something, that is rooted in our own understandings, based upon our level of exposure to the norms in particular communities and, certainly, how we identify and come to define femininity.”
ANITA JOHNSON: “Right.”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “And for girls who are vulnerable to pushout, that is really a critical issue. It’s how we come to define their attitudes. It’s how we come to understand their expressions.
“And, really, at the end of it all, what I’m hopeful people will take away from that conversation is that we have a lot more work to do to better understand in the public domain what black femininity looks like for girls and to respond to that, not through a lens of judgment and punishment—”
ANITA JOHNSON: “M-hm.”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “—but to understand that these expressions, these acts of questioning are not an affront to authority, but an expression of critical thinking. Right?”
ANITA JOHNSON: “Absolutely.”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “We’re listening. That’s why respond the way we do. We feel what’s happening. That’s why we are responding. [laughs] Right?
“And, so, I hope others will feel and listen, so that they can respond also.” (c. 32:17)
ANITA JOHNSON: “[SNIP] (c. 32:45)
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “Well, first let me start with the first question about, sort of, what my thoughts are about how we create an environment, that’s conducive to the learning of our girls, not to their pushout.
“I say in the book that there are really four core areas, that I would like to see, um, developed toward that goal. And I take—you know, there’s been a lot of talk about trauma-informed care and some of the lessons from, you know, our colleagues in the [S.F.] Bay Area, who have been challenging that work, have really been about shifting our focus beyond trauma toward healing.
“And, so, in the book I talk about the development of healing-informed responses to problematic student behaviour. So, really, looking at restorative opportunities, restorative approaches to resolving conflict with girls, um, bridging programmes for girls with a delinquency history. (c. 33:38)
“Really, we’ve gotta reexamine the impact of the dress codes and look at some of those codes of conduct through a healing-informed lens, but also looking at what happens in the classrooms in schools.
“So, look at the, you know, affirmative—the affirmation of education as a tool for social justice, so that girls really clearly understand why they are getting an education and how it relates to their lives; some emotional counselling, that can be there for the girls; college and career pathways.
“So, in my work, a lot of the girls wanna learn. They understand that education i.s a critical issue for them. They understand the research, that says that education, for girls, is a critical protective factor against involvement in the juvenile and criminal legal systems. But they don’t still get why they have to do it, or why they have to go, if it’s not a place where they feel safe.
“And, so, I think it’s important for us to establish, you know, school-based opportunities to lead for black girls, to really look at developing internships, having speakers come in that can make those connections for them, so that they understand the value of what they’re doing and how they’re spending their day.” (c. 34:45)
ANITA JOHNSON: “M-hm.”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: [SNIP]
[SNIP] (c. 38:57)
“Currently, there’s the national conversation of Black Lives Matter. Everyone’s talking about it, whether they want to or not. This is part of the national discourse, thanks to the mobilisation of many people, especially around the issues of anti-police terrorism [i.e., opposition to police terrorism].
“My question to you, however, is: How do you see, if at all, the national conversation of Black Lives Matter constructing the discourse around the protection of black girls, especially in the space of reexaming law enforcement culture within schools?” (c. 39:27)
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “Well, um, so, I’ll say that I have long been a part of a community, that has always felt that black lives matter. [chuckles]”
ANITA JOHNSON: “M-hm.”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “And I think that most of the people who follow that movement, or who are involved directly in that movement, have firmly held on to this notion.
“And I think that what Black Lives Matter has done is provide a context to explore the presence and impact of increased surveillance and law enforcement presence in our communities.
“That said, the majority of those conversations have centered men and boys and have centered a particular manifestation of violence against black communities. And that particular manifestation of violence against black communities has, largely, rendered women and girls invisible. And I don’t think it was intentional. But I do think that, in our conversations about, you know, black lives mattering, we don’t often talk about the sexual victimisation of girls, or the exploitation of girls, or their educational underperformance, or the way in which structural violence has impacted girls and young women. (c. 40:47)
“However, I do think that having—I do think it’s an opportunity, though, because there are a lot of ways in which the Lives Matter framework has presented us with an opportunity to explore all black lives. Right?”
ANITA JOHNSON: “Right.”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “At least that’s what Alicia Garza wrote publicly: When I said black lives matter, I meant all lives, all black lives. Right? And that means along the gender continuum—right?—that the expression of black identity along the gender continuum is something that is uniquely vulnerable to violence in our communities.
“And, so, with that context established, and with an open conversation now about the presence of law enforcement and its role in our communities, I think there is an opportunity for us to talk about the increased surveillance, what I call the structures of surveillance, or instruments of surveillance, in the book. That it’s not only about law enforcement. Right? That it’s about the metal detectors. It’s about the cameras. It’s about all the ways in which our communities have this increased surveillance, but not necessarily safer. And there are opportunities for us to explore when—you know—those who are supposed to protect our communities are not necessarily doing that either, as it pertains to girls and young women. (c. 42:08)
“So, I think that there are important opportunities laid. I do think that there’s a particular rigor we can add to this conversation, that does intersect gender in a much more concrete and intentional way, so that when we talk about the lives, that matter in our communities we wrap our arms around all of those lives and really understand the unique ways in which in which they might be impacted by some of these issues.”
ANITA JOHNSON: “I wanna say that’s a very insightful critique. And I can appreciate that. When we think about ‘intentional ways‘, how would—or how should the conversation go in regards to Black Lives Matter and the protection of black girls in the instance of, say, the sister in South Carolina or the young girl in Chicago? How should that narrative have happened in context to the larger conversation of Black Lives Matter?” (c. 43.01)
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “Well, I think—you know, in my opinion—I think—”
ANITA JOHNSON: “Because my thought is: It shouldn’t just be when somebody is killed.”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “Well, that’s what I mean—”
ANITA JOHNSON: “[laughs]”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “—right? I think that we do that almost all organically, that there have been many ways in which there’s been an extension of the Black Lives Matter—at least the usage of the hashtag—[laughs] you know—to declare the value of black lives in association with all of these structures of oppression. Right? And I think that we could be more intentional with the use and the engagement around the development of the policies, practice, and advocacy agenda, that really does respond. You know? What does it mean for our policies to reflect that black lives matter? Right? What does a school system need to look like in order to fully uplift that black lives matter? Right?
“And it doesn’t look like threatening girls with suspension if they wear their hair in Afros. [chuckles] Right? It doesn’t look like sending a girl home because it’s 90 degrees out and she wore short shorts. It doesn’t look like suspending girls for ten days because they had a fight in the hall.
“It means that we have to think differently about how we respond to conflict how we understand what these behaviours are and the kinds of assessments, that we do on the policies and practices, the kinds of training and professional development, that we have in place. (c. 44:28)
“I’m not of the mind that increased surveillance leads to safety. You know? I don’t think that cameras alone can resolve anything. [chuckles] I think they record. They don’t necessarily resolve.”
ANITA JOHNSON: “M-hm.”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “They don’t resolve. I’ll say that. But I do think that it’s important to center a response to the historical oppression and trauma and to really begin to understand that when we engage in practices that facilitate healing opportunities for black girls and talk to them about intersections between race and gender biases, that they will, then, be able to have language to identify when they feel wronged and to work with one adult, at least one adult, in their life, who can help them advocate for their own safety.
“And that is, really, what I think will begin to transform some of the conversations we’ve had about the manifestations of danger, the assessments of threat, and the kinds of conversations, that we have with people about responses.
“My organisation, the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, is in partnership with the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, now conducting a study on the relationship between school resource officers and girls of colour.” (c. 45:45)
ANITA JOHNSON: “Mm.”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “And I think it’s important for us to have conversations with people about how they are functioning in our communities, how they are engaging our young people, and what some of the opportunities are for intervention.
“I am clearly in the space, personally, of needing to develop remedy. I think we have done a good job of articulating the problem. And there’s always room to grow, in terms of articulating the problem. But I do think that we are in a space now where we’ve gotta be ready to say: Okay, then what? [chuckles] Right? If we don’t want that, what do we want?”
ANITA JOHNSON: “M-hm.”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “And, so, the work, that I’ve been engaged in recently has really been about developing pilot initiatives to test: What do we want? To explore this development of, both, policy and practice, that can be more responsive to the needs of girls, so that when we have an opportunity to work with school districts, or we have an opportunity to work with law enforcement, or we have an opportunity to go inside of our communities and talk to the concerned community of adults, we really have something to say—we want to test and we want to explore more deeply—and, that we want to use to replace the structures of oppression, that are currently in place.” (c. 46:59)
ANITA JOHNSON: “Again, that is the voice of Monique W. Morris. I wanna say Dr. Morris. Is that alright? [laughs]”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “[laughs]”
ANITA JOHNSON: “Dr. Morris, um, you know, it’s been great having this conversation with you. Again, you’re the author of the new book Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.
“How can our listeners pick up a copy? And, then, also let us know if there’s an upcoming speaking engagement in the Bay Area. And how can people just plug in to what you’re doing, the very important work, that you’re doing?” (c. 47:31)
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “Well, I appreciate that. The book is available, I believe, through all major booksellers, certainly online. But, certainly, check out your local bookstore. I’m always a supporter of that as well.
“There are several [S.F.] Bay Area appearances, that I’ll have. And you can go to my website at MoniqueWMorris.com for a complete listing of those opportunities.
“I will be at Marcus Books on April the 23rd. So, definitely come check us out. I’m hopeful that all the events, that I do and all the events, that I make, or the book, Pushout, develop into many strategy sessions for how we begin to wrap our arms and minds around this issue for our girls. And, so, I certainly encourage folks to come out.
“But I’ll, also, be in Chicago and Columbus. I’m doing an event in San Francisco. Actually, I’m really excited about that event because it’s for the Black Infant Health Conference. And Angela Davis will be there, who is one of my personal sheroes, on March 29th, which is the actual launch of the book, but, certainly, to the Marcus Books event on April 23rd.”
ANITA JOHNSON: “I appreciate your insight. And, again, this is another important book, that you’ve presented to our listeners. And, hopefully, folks will pick it up.
“Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us.”
DR. MONIQUE W. MORRIS: “Well, I appreciate it. I thank you for what you do.”
ANITA JOHNSON: “Alright. Again, this is Hard Knock. I am Anita Johnson. Stay tuned. We’ll be right back [with a segment from Davey D]. (c. 49:00)
[SNIP] (c. 59:59)
Learn more at HARD KNOCK RADIO.
[This transcript draft will be expanded as time constraints, and/or demand or resources, allow. However, as of Friday, 8 APR 2016, this interview has been removed from KPFA’s free speech radio archives. And it was never made available for downloading as an mp3. So, it is unlikely that we will be able to access an audio file of this broadcast in order to complete this transcription. Perhaps, we will be able to contact Hard Knock Radio and acquire a copy. In past years, I have transcribed Hard Knock Radio broadcasts for Media Roots, which Hard Knock Radio‘s Davey D has re-Tweeted to his massive Twitter following in appreciation. At that time, Davey D mentioned enthusiastically that he had never seen his radio journalism in print form before. This was great synergy.]
“Black Girl” by Lenny Kravitz
“Protection” by Massive Attack
 Hour-long terrestrial radio transmission, 94.1 FM (KPFA, Berkeley, CA) with online simulcast and digital archiving: Hard Knock Radio, for Thursday, 24 MAR 2016, 16:00 PDT. N.B.: Hard Knock Radio usually removes audio archives two weeks after initial radio transmission.
[24 MAR 2016]
[Last modified 17:10 PDT 10 APR 2016]