AuthorLane-Steele, Laura


The urgent problems facing Black boys and young men have triggered the proliferation of single-sex initiatives aimed at tackling these obstacles, namely public single-sex schools and programs inspired by President Obama 's My Brother's Keeper initiative. Black girls have largely been left out of these initiatives despite facing many of the same barriers as Black boys and disadvantages of their own. This Article identifies, critiques, and explains this disproportionate intervention for Black boys. It argues that these single-sex initiatives are a poor policy tool for fighting racial oppression because (I) there is no evidence that these boys-only initiatives work to achieve their stated goals; (2) statistical gender gaps between Black boys and girls are not large enough to warrant disproportionate intervention; and (3) these initiatives have great potential to reify destructive aspects of dominant Black masculinity. It then employs critical race theory to explain how this current disproportionate intervention is part of a historically-based discourse that prioritizes Black men '$ needs over those of Black women, casts Black men as "privileged victims " of racism, and seeks to restore patriarchy in the Black community. Finally, it predicts that these initiatives will continue to proliferate for two reasons. First, the current legal frameworks, specifically Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause, do not necessarily prevent the increasing disproportionality of these initiatives and the resulting unfairness to Black girls. Second, there is insufficient political will to halt the expansion of these initiatives--they face little to no political opposition, even from politicians on the Left who claim to champion gender equity.


Washington, D.C.'s first all-male public high school, Ron Brown, opened in August 2016 with a mission to improve Black (1) boys' "disproportionate rates of graduation, suspension, attendance, student satisfaction,

and performance on college readiness exams." (2) But the impetus for creating this school extends further than troubling academic statistics--many people in the Black community and beyond are urgently seeking ways to reduce the large numbers of Black boys and young men who are killed (3) or incarcerated. (4) As one mother of a Ron Brown student said of her son, "I'm really scared for him, really scared. And I just feel like there is nothing else I can do." (5) Faced with the fear of losing her son to prison or the morgue, she hopes Ron Brown can help keep him out of both.

Ron Brown is just one of hundreds of public single-sex schools charged with the mission to improve the lives of Black boys. But single-sex schools are not the only initiatives striving towards this goal. President Obama's My Brother's Keeper initiative, created in 2014, called on local communities to address the academic, career, and criminal justice barriers faced by Black boys and young men. Since then, most U.S. cities have taken up the My Brother's Keeper challenge and created or funded initiatives for young men of color, specifically Black boys. These resulting initiatives vary but tend to focus on mentorship, educational interventions, job training, and/or college readiness. Millions of public and private dollars and significant amounts of political capital have been invested in improving the lives of Black boys through these single-sex schools serving primarily Black boys and My Brother's Keeper-like initiatives (together "single-sex initiatives"). Black girls, on the other hand, have been left out. Despite facing many of the same problems as Black boys and unique challenges of their own, far less money and political will has been devoted to improving the lives of Black girls.

This Article responds to this disproportionate proliferation of single-sex initiatives for Black boys and posits that these initiatives specifically, and sex-segregation more broadly, are ineffective and problematic tools for racial justice. It concludes that disproportionate initiatives for Black boys, as opposed to those for Black girls, are empirically unwarranted and have not been proven to be effective in achieving their stated goals. It also emphasizes the harm these initiatives exact on Black girls and young women, both by their exclusion of Black girls and by their potential to increase and perpetuate harmful patriarchal norms and destructive forms of dominant masculinity. It then analyses why these initiatives persist despite being both ineffective for Black boys and unfair to Black girls. It concludes with a warning that Black girls' interests will continue to be overlooked because the current legal framework does not protect against the increasing disproportionality of these initiatives and because these initiatives lack significant political opposition. The point this Article makes is not that the issues facing Black boys do not merit serious attention--they do. But Black girls are also facing urgent problems and leaving them out does nothing but perpetuate their erasure in antiracist discourse and policy.

The Article is structured as follows. Section I provides background on why sex segregation is being employed as a racial justice strategy in the first place. It then demonstrates that Black boys are in fact receiving disproportion intervention. Section II makes three independent arguments against these initiatives. First, there is no evidence that sex segregation works to ameliorate the problems these initiatives target. Second, given the significant disproportionality of resources spent on Black boys versus Black girls, one would expect there to be a large statistical gender gap on the measures these single-sex initiatives seek to address. There's not. With the exception of imprisonment, Black girls' educational and career outcomes are similar to Black boys', and on other measures, they perform worse. Third, even if these initiatives did work to improve academic, career, and/or incarceration outcomes, they should still be avoided because allmale environments tend to perpetuate and reinforce destructive forms of masculinity. As such, these single-sex initiatives have great potential to harm Black women and girls, gender non-conforming individuals, and gender-conforming Black boys who participate in these initiatives.

Section 111 offers an explanation for why this disproportionality exists. First, it employs critical race theory to argue that the increasing and disproportionate number of single-sex initiatives for Black boys and young men is a product of a larger, historically-based discourse that is rooted in a familiar narrative that restoring white patriarchal norms to Black families and communities is key to racial equity, thus privileging the needs of Black men over those of Black women. It also posits that the broader narrative that "all boys are in crisis" plays a role in fueling the "Black boys are in crisis" narrative that underpins the justification for many of these initiatives.

Section IV predicts that these initiatives will continue to proliferate and the current unfairness to Black girls will be exacerbated for two reasons. First, the law--specifically Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause--does not necessarily provide a legal remedy for the unequal treatment of Black girls in this context. Second, even if there is a viable legal argument in support of ending disproportionate intervention, there is insufficient political will to end the use of sex segregation as a tool for ending racial oppression. Given the blatant exclusion of Black girls, progressive politicians and institutions that supposedly champion gender equity should be advocating for the inclusion of women. Yet, they have been largely silent in this debate. The Conclusion of this Article argues that these same-sex initiatives should be replaced with coeducational interventions designed to ameliorate the effects of institutional racism and white supremacy on young Black people of all genders. It also explains that creating proportionate single-sex initiatives for Black girls is not an adequate remedy because although this solution would ameliorate the current unfairness to Black girls, it would not fully cure the harms of sex segregation.

  1. The Recent Proliferation in Single-Sex Initiatives for Black Boys

    1. Sex Segregation as a Tool for Racial Equity

      The number of public single-sex schools and related sex-segregated educational programs has significantly increased over the last fifteen years. In 2002, approximately a dozen public schools offered single-sex educational opportunities, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education (NASSPE). (6) By 2012, that number had ballooned to 506, 116 of which qualified as single-sex schools. (7) During the 2014-15 school year, there were 283 single-sex public schools. (8) This increase in sex-segregated institutions is not limited to schools, however. There are growing numbers of single-sex initiatives that provide mentorship and/or seek to improve criminal and juvenile justice, academic, employment, and health outcomes for young people. (9)

      These single-sex initiatives have not been evenly dispersed. Urban, low-income communities host a disproportionate number of single-sex schools, and these initiatives serve mostly students of color. (10) Indeed, 61% of the students who attend public single-sex schools are Black, 22% are Latino, and 11% are white. (11) In comparison, 50% of the students who attend coeducational public schools nationwide are white, 25% are Latino, and 16% are Black. (12) Moreover, 78% of students attending sex-single schools qualify for free or low-cost meals, compared to 52% of their peers in coeducational schools. (13)

      Black, low-income communities have largely welcomed these initiatives, viewing them as a potential avenue for closing an entrenched racial achievement gap created by centuries of institutionalized racism...

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