The study surveyed 325 adults from many different backgrounds and education levels in the United States. They were recruited through an online service that made sure the community sample was diverse. Participants were randomly assigned a nine-question questionnaire on Black or White girls, but not in relation to each other.
“Their responses were on a 5-point scale. So responses would mark number one, for not at all, two, for a little, and so on. They did that for each age bracket, so that’s how we are able to see that from ages 5 to 10, 10 to 14 and 15 to 19 there is an increase in how adults view girls as less innocent and more adult-like. All of the adults that took the survey were unaware that their responses would be compared based on race.” Thalia Gonzalez said.
The result shows adults think Black girls seem older than White girls of the same age. They thought Black girls needed less nurturing, protection and support than White girls. Black girls were also found to be more independent and know more about adult topics like sex.
“We were surprised at how early this phenomenon begins. By that, I mean at 5-years-old these perceptions were being associated with Black girls. I think that’s certainly disturbing and signals the need to substitute change.” Gonzalez said.
Black girls are also subjected to different disciplinary treatments. Black girls are five times more likely to be suspended than White girls and twice as likely as White Boys. They are 20 percent more likely to be charged with a crime than White girls, and 20 percent more likely to be detained than White girls. One study also shows prosecutors dismissed 30 percent of cases against Black girls, while dismissing 70 percent of cases against White girls.
“Well we know that within our legal system, as the idea’s of childhood innocence and child development merge, that White children have greater legal protection than Black children. So that coupled with images and stereotypes associated with Black women, we believe those are being laid upon young Black girls. That’s creating this bias. So, what that means for schools, and the juvenile justice system is that these girls may be targeted unfairly or with less leniency. For us that is like erasing their childhood.”
The authors of the study want to call for more studies into the “adultification” of Black girls. They want to see if there is a connection to negative outcomes across public systems like education, juvenile justice system, and child welfare. They hope from this study, teachers and law enforcement are provided with training on adultification to help counter the negative consequences of this bias against Black girls.
“Often Black girls are being punished more severely for very subjective offences like talking back in the classroom or wearing their hair in a natural hairstyle. If we would see change to these school policies, we would start to see more Blacks girls able to stay in the classroom instead of potentially moving to the juvenile justice system. These reports are a call to action, to society as a whole, the time for change is now.” Said Gonzalez.
You can read more about this study at https://www.law.georgetown.edu/news/press-releases/Black-Girls-Viewed-As-Less-Innocent-Than-White-Girls-Georgetown-Law-Research-Finds.cfm.