In the first study focused on “adultification” of Black girls, Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality found significant bias against Black girls, starting even younger than for Black boys.
Researchers started with previous research on adult perceptions of Black boys, including a 2014 study that found that, starting at age 10, Black boys are more likely to be viewed as older and guilty of suspected crimes than white peers. They added items associated with stereotypes of Black women and girls which “paint Black females as hypersexual, boisterous, aggressive, and unscrupulous.”
“What we found is that adults see Black girls as less innocent and less in need of protection as white girls of the same age,” said Rebecca Epstein, lead author of the report, Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood. She said the new evidence may help explain why Black girls are disciplined much more often and more severely than white girls both in American schools and in our juvenile justice system.
Black girls are five times more likely to be suspended than white girls, and twice as likely to be suspended as white boys. Black girls are nearly three times as likely to be referred to the juvenile justice system, and 20 percent more likely to be charged with a crime than white girls. One study found that prosecutors dismissed only 30 percent of cases against African American girls, while dismissing 70 percent against white girls.
The Georgetown study found that adults see Black girls as older than white girls of the same age; Black girls need less nurturing, protection, support, and comforting than white girls; and Black girls are more independent and know more about adult topics, including sex, than white girls.
“These findings show that pervasive stereotypes of Black women as hypersexualized and combative are reaching into our schools and playgrounds and helping rob Black girls of the protections other children enjoy,” said report coauthor Jamilia Blake, an associate professor at Texas A&M University.
The report demonstrates that the presumption of guilt and dangerousness that burdens people of color in this country not only puts Black men and teenagers at risk of police violence and abuse, but also contributes to negative outcomes in education, juvenile justice, and child welfare for Black girls as young as five. The authors call for further study into the adultification of Black girls and recommend providing teachers and law enforcement officials with training to help counteract the negative consequences of this bias against Black girls.