Last week, while two young women in Clay County, FL sat at their school desks, a male classmate unknowingly took a photo of them and then used the photo to post an ad to sell them as slaves on Craigslist for $470, “Two healthy negro slavegals for sale. Good condition and hard work ethic! If you need another pair of hands around the farm/house, you’re in luck!”
Young women are not commodities. Young women are not property. Young women are not for sale. The indignity of the Craigslist ad is just one example of the trauma black young women experience and speaks to the cultural climate of heightened racism and sexism all our children live in. As a girl-centered organization deeply rooted in the First Coast community, the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center takes a stance against the victimization and degradation of young women. We applaud the young women and other students in the school who raised this as a problem and took to social media to raise awareness.
Our research shows that black girls and young women continue to bear the brunt of racial and gender bias and discrimination. Racist and sexist behavior is not a joke. If as a community we respond by blaming the young women for being overly sensitive or angry; if we excuse the perpetrator because “boys will be boys”; if we gloss over this cruelty, we are complicit in their victimization. Far from being rare, experiences like this shape and form how black young women navigate the world every day.
It is vital that we learn how the young women experienced being advertised for sale as slaves and how they will carry this trauma with them. How will this now globally known betrayal of a classmate affect each girl’s experience of school, their privacy, their sense of self? Their feelings, thoughts, and experiences must be acknowledged.
When black girls and young women were entirely unprotected by human rights laws, they were subject to physical, sexual, and mental abuse. Today, more than 20 million people across the globe are exploited through modern day slavery. The demand for cheap labor and sex means girls and young women are being sold into slavery and are trafficked in our own communities. Florida ranks third in the nation for reports of trafficking. Jacksonville ranks third in the state. Hate, discrimination, profiling, shaming, and disregard can be found in our own neighborhoods, in our schools, sometimes in our own homes.
School is a place intended to provide a safe environment where all students can learn. Simply removing the offending student from class for ten days will not address the school culture where this happened.
The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center challenges the community to hold leaders at the district and school level accountable to use a restorative justice model to understand the harm done to the young women and to decide appropriate amends the young man who placed the ad can make to them.
Racism and sexism must be topics of discussion and reflection in schools. We challenge school administrators to hold student- led listening sessions for the community so that we can listen and learn how our children experience discrimination in their schools, online, and in their community. We must listen to our children and implement their suggestions. Teacher and student codes of conduct, school policies, and protocols need to be revisited to ensure their alignment with the actual experiences of students.
Let us do more than reflect. Let this act of racism and sexism serve as a call to action. We can begin by showing support for the two young women at the Clay County school board meeting at Fleming Island High School this week, Thursday, May 4th from 6pm-9pm.
Dr. Lawanda Ravoira, President and CEO
Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center