Racial bias is alive and well in the United States, and a disturbing new study demonstrates just how early this bias begins to affect the day-to-day lives of black girls.
According to a study conducted by Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality, black girls are perceived as “less innocent” than their white female classmates as early as five years old.
Innocence here is defined as both a child’s need for protection and a lack of worldliness, HelloGiggles reports. The study also found that black girls are perceived as more mature than white girls in the same age bracket.
The data summary is both simple and heartbreaking: “Black girls need less nurturing. Black girls need less protection. Black girls need to be supported less. Black girls are more independent. Black girls know more about adult topics. Black girls know more about sex.”
“These are preschool girls who are being viewed as needing less protection and needing less nurturing than their white counterparts,” Rebecca Epstein, lead author and executive director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality at the Georgetown University Law Center, explains. “At that age, I find that shocking.”
It is shocking: out of 325 adults surveyed (74 percent being white) the majority responded that black girls ages five through 14 were less innocent than their white counterparts.
“These results are profound, with far-reaching implications,” the study reads, “Our findings reveal a potential contributing factor to the disproportionate rates of punitive treatment in the education and juvenile justice systems for Black girls.”
Adultification of black girls is not harmless; it encourages our society to punish them more heavily than white girls both in childhood and adulthood.
“Furthermore,” the study concludes, “the view that Black girls need less nurturing, protection, and support and are more independent may translate into fewer leadership and mentorship opportunities in schools.”
“It’s the stereotype of black women as being loud, aggressive, and over-sexualized,”co-author Jamilia Blake explains. “You can trace [these stereotypes] all the way back to slavery.”
They are stereotypes that our society participates in, willfully or not, and teachers need to make a concentrated effort not to treat their black students as lacking innocence and not to punish them for asking questions and speaking their mind in class.
“All Black girls are entitled to, and deserve, equal treatment, including equal access to the protections that are accepted as necessary and appropriate for children,” the study concludes. “Recognizing the bias underlying the adultification of Black girls is an important step toward that goal.”