Researchers from Georgetown University’s Center on Poverty and Inequality are sounding the alarm for young Black girls worldwide who they say are losing their childhood due to attitudes that perceive them as “less innocent and more adult-like than their White peers, especially in the age range of 5-14.”
The report titled “Girl Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls Childhood,” studied several different domains and found that from the classroom to the courtroom young Black girls are seen more as adults and less as the children that they actually are.
“These results suggest that Black girls are viewed as more adult than their White peers at almost all stages of childhood, beginning most significantly at the age of 5, peaking during the ages of 10 to 14, and continuing during the ages of 15 to 19,” read the report, which surveyed 325 adults that were predominately White and college educated.
“Across all age ranges, participants viewed Black girls collectively as more adult than White girls. Responses revealed, in particular, that participants perceived Black girls as needing less protection and nurturing than White girls, and that Black girls were perceived to know more about adult topics and are more knowledgeable about sex than their White peers.”
As a result of this early adultification, every aspect of life is affected. Black girls – and boys – are seen as adults making bad decisions instead of children engaging in typical behaviors expected from their age group. Black girls are seen as having childhood that is easily interchangeable with the responsibilities of Black womanhood.
In school, the data from the report shows that Black girls are suspended twice as much for “subjective infractions” that include “dress code violations, inappropriate cell phone use,” and “loitering.” They are disciplined three times as much “for disruptive behavior” and fighting.
This early “adultification” also causes Black girls who come into contact with law enforcement to be “2.7 times more likely than White females to be referred to juvenile justice,” “0.8 less likely than White females to have their cases diverted,” and “1.2 more likely than White females to be detained.”
When officers of the law come into contact with Black youths, police officers are routinely seeing them as four-and-a-half years older, thus attaching a greater sense of culpability.
Authors of the report were Rebecca Epstein, executive director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality; Jamilia J. Blake, an associate professor at Texas A&M University and Thalia González, associate professor at Occidental College.
The women said that they hope the report will “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.”
From teachers to law enforcement officials, the authors hope that “ with training on adultification” those in power will feel the need “to address and counteract this manifestation of implicit bias against Black girls.”