Study Shows Adults Perceive Black Girls As Less Innocent Than White Girls Of The Same Age
Kudos to Jamilia J. Blake and Rebecca Epstein, who recently released their findings in a study on behalf of the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality which looked at adultification bias toward young black girls and women.
The introduction to the study revealed how Blake and Epstein previously conducted research which resulted in the June 2017 release of Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood, a report that presented the findings from their quantitative analysis of an form of gendered racial bias against Black girls: adultification – a stereotype in which adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers, devoid of any individualized context.
The results of that study revealed that adults perceive Black girls as less innocent than white girls as young as 5-9 years old.
The set of findings published last week took things a step further. Researchers conducted focus groups with Black women and girls across the country, in towns and cities of various sizes and in different geographic regions, speaking with a range of participants, between the ages of 12 and 60 years old. Many of those who participated shared personal stories revealing harmful consequences of adults misperceiving their age.
“Almost all the black girls and women we talked to said they’d experienced adultification bias as children,” report co-author Jamilia Blake said in a statement. “And they overwhelmingly agreed that it led teachers and other adults to treat them more harshly and hold them to higher standards than white girls.”
One such participant described being stopped by a police officer who did not believe her when she told him she was 15 years old, and handcuffed and fingerprinted her because he insisted that she was too old not to carry identification.
“[T]he officer that came and … fingerprinted me — he was like: ‘Well, child, you know, don’t lie to us. And if you tell us the real — your real age and real name, we wouldn’t have to be going through none of this’ ….” (Age group 13-17)
Other examples of adultification bias concerned “attitude”:
“[E]ven when you see just in general the word ‘attitude’ being applied … it’s usually not applied to white girls. It’s applied to Black girls.” (Age group 20‑29)
“[A] Black girl, if she’s right, and she wants to argue about something, she’s always labelled as, like, angry. And especially when it came to teachers and stuff. I would see people like debating with teachers and they would always automatically get into trouble. Because like she has ‘attitude.’ [But] … she’s just like trying to prove that she’s right. And … you can just tell that [to teachers,] automatically, she’s, like, in the wrong, just because.” (Age group 17‑23)
“[T]he teacher would say she felt threatened, you know, by me expressing myself in a classroom; like, I was, like, overpowering her when a — a outspoken white person would be [viewed as], ‘Oh,nthey’re intelligent;’ you know?” (Age group 20‑29)
How many of these scenarios seem familiar to you?
The findings also include participants personal stories of being hypersexualized by adults:
“In … sixth grade, … the school nurse, like, ask[ed] my aunt if I was sexually active …. And I was, like, at the time, like, what? Like, what? Nobody has sex. Like, I didn’t know anyone that had sex. And it was so crazy to me. And then just thinking, like, she would never think to ask my [white] friend that.” (Age group 20‑29)
The bias the participants described included overreaction and premature criminalization as well. Just consider this story, shared by one of the young women who was interviewed:
“I remember even in elementary school I had to transfer to different schools, and the other school didn’t want to take me because I had assault and battery on my record, and the reason I had assault and battery was because … during a, um, a game [at recess], one of the balls, like, hit the girl in
the face. Like, I had — I wasn’t [even] taken to the principal’s office …. But they just threw
that on my record ….” (Age group 20‑29)
Can you imagine? An assault and battery record because of a GAME?!? Just ridiculous. There are so many more personal stories we could share, you can read the entire report HERE.