Black Girls Perceived As Less Innocent Than White Girls Starting At Age 5

Georgetown University

Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality released a study that confirms what we have all long known and feared: racial bias strips black girls of their innocence as early as the age of 5. Sadly, this type of bias is impacting black girls from as early as kindergarten who are perceived to need less protecting and less nurturing than their white counterparts.

These findings are an added burden for black girls who already face discrimination in the classroom because of gender. Another study found that black girls are more likely to face negative consequences for calling out answers in class, compared to their male counterparts and girls of other races. Despite the fact that black girls perform well academically and are well-represented in AP classes, teachers more frequently scolded them for this behavior because it was deemed “unladylike”.

Viewing a child as more mature because of stereotypes is called “adultification” and this adultification of black girls may have its roots in ugly, vicious stereotypes about black women, which label us loud, aggressive, and hypersexual. The implications of this bias are far reaching and can impact girls not only in school, but in the legal system, where black women are disproportionately incarcerated and punished compared to their white counterparts.

The authors of this study intend for it to be a call to action and addressed the importance of addressing racial bias. They urged:

“This report represents a key step in addressing the disparate treatment of Black girls in public systems. We challenge researchers to develop new studies to investigate the degree and prevalence of the adultification of Black girls—a term used in this report to refer to the perception of Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than white girls of the same age—as well as its possible causal connection with negative outcomes across a diverse range of public systems, including education, juvenile justice, and child welfare. Further, we urge legislators, advocates, and policymakers to examine the disparities that exist for Black girls in the education and juvenile justice systems and engage in necessary reform. Lastly, we recommend providing individuals who have authority over children—including teachers and law enforcement officials— with training on adultification to address and counteract this manifestation of implicit bias against Black girls. Above all, further efforts must ensure that the voices of Black girls themselves remain front and center to the work.”

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