On June 27, 2017, the Georgetown Law Center On Poverty and Inequality released a publication titled, “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood,” that showed that adults in America view black girls as less innocent than their white counterparts. This study is an extension of a 2014 study led by Phillip Goff that investigated the criminalization of black boys in comparison to white boys. The study entails not only the differences on how society perceives black girls in contrast to White girls but also establishes the consequences of such treatment.
It discusses the “adultification” of black girlhood when factoring in society’s predisposition towards black girls in their most sensitive time of adolescence. This adultification of black girls can manifest into many common tropes and concepts of black girl that we know today. Although this study isn’t unique in its raw concepts of racism and ethnicity, it does prime the focus of girls and offers new explanations and reasoning as to why society treats black girls the way they do. The angry black girl trope, the hypersexualization of black girls at younger ages and the demonization of them in schools all root in society’s predispositions to how they treat black girls.
Researchers surveyed 325 adults from an assortment of racial and ethnic backgrounds and educational levels across the United States. Across the four age brackets examined, the most significant differences in adult perceptions were found in relation to girls in mid-childhood (ages 5-9) and early adolescence (10-14), continuing to a lesser degree in the 15 to 19-year-old group. No statistically significant differences were found in the 0-4 age group.
The report unveiled how adults perceived black girls:
- Black girls seem older than white girls of the same age.
- Black girls need less nurturing than white girls.
- Black girls need less protection than white girls.
- Black girls need to be supported less than white girls.
- Black girls need to be comforted less than white girls.
- Black girls are more independent than white girls.
- Black girls know more about adult topics than white girls.
- Black girls know more about sex than white girls.
The blatant unconscious and conscious bias against Black girls in this study were presumed to possibly be a direct cause for the following:
- Black girls are five times more likely to be suspended as white girls, and twice as likely to be suspended as white boys.
- Black girls make up just under 16% of the female school population but account for 28% of referrals to law enforcement, and 37% of arrests. White girls account for 50% the female school population, but only 34% of referrals and 30% of arrests.
- Black girls are nearly three times as likely to be referred to the juvenile justice system as white girls.
- Black girls are 20% more likely to be charged with a crime than white girls.
- Black girls are 20% more likely than white girls to be detained.
- Black girls are less likely to benefit from prosecutorial discretion. One study found that prosecutors dismissed only 30% of cases against black girls while dismissing 70% of cases against white girls.
“One reason this might be occurring is because black girls are being held to the same stereotypes we have of black women,” said Jamila Blake, report co-author and an associate professor at Texas A&M University, “Black women have historically and currently been seen as aggressive, loud, defiant and over sexualized. And I believe, along with many other researchers, that the stereotypes of black women are being mapped on to black girls.”
“There’s kind of this social stereotype and of course there’s something about being resilient, being independent, but when this stereotype is put on girls at a very young age, it really robs them, whether they realize it or not, of this kind of naiveté of being a child,” said Blake.
Rebecca Epstein, lead author and executive director for the center calls out not only to black girls to raise their issues and makes sure their voices are heard but also to our legislators, teachers, and grassroots bureaucrats to unlearn this detrimental attitude toward black girls.
“In all of this work, voices of black girls themselves should be front and center to the work,” she said. “We encourage black girls to raise their voices about this issue and, of course, for adults to listen to them. All black girls are entitled to and deserve equal treatment, including equal access to the protections that are appropriate for children.”
And we couldn’t agree more.