New Report Finds Black Girls Viewed As Less Innocent than White Peers

A new report from the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality delves deep into adultification bias, a stereotype in which adults view Black girls as more adult and less innocent than their white peers.

The center released a similar report in 2017, which found that adults view Black girls as young as 5 to 14 years old as less innocent than white girls. That report revealed that adults also believe that young Black girls need less protection and nurturing than their white peers.

The report, which was released on May 15, asked Black girls and women to share their experiences with adultification bias. Black girls as young as 12 and Black women as old as 60 reported routinely experiencing adultification bias as children. “Our new research elevates the voices of Black women and girls themselves, who told us that they are routinely affected by this form of discrimination,” report co-author Rebecca Epstein, who leads the Initiative on Gender Justice and Opportunity at Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality, explained in a statement.

The report revealed that negative stereotypes of Black women as angry, aggressive, and hypersexualized are projected onto Black girls. This adultification bias often translated to harsher punishments and higher standards for Black girls in school.

“Almost all the Black girls and women we talked to said they’d experienced adultification bias as children,” Jamilia J. Blake, the report’s co-author, 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.” Blake said that the new report supports the center’s earlier findings that adultification bias is a major contributor to disparities in discipline.

In the 2015-2016 school year, Black girls represented 8 percent of student enrollment but 14 percent of students who received an out-of-school suspension, according to the US Department of Education. Meanwhile, white girls represented 24 percent of enrollment and only 8 percent of students who received an out-of-school suspension. One participant in the 20-29 age focus group described how her school record was tarnished after a simple game during recess.

“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,” she explained.

Participants reported that the stereotype of the angry Black woman led educators to over-discipline Black girls. “[There’s] this idea that, like, punishment is the best way to respond…when Black girls…make a mistake,” one respondent said.

Adultification bias also meant that Black girls were hypersexualized, and adults assumed that they were sexually active at an early age. Participants spoke of school employees hypersexualizing them for their clothes and actions. “I think that…adults in general need to…be reminded that Black young girls are still kids,” a young participant said.

Focus group participants said they hoped the center’s research would translate to a drop in this form of bias. “As teenagers, we still need to be protected,” a participant in the 13-17 age group said. “[W]e go to school and…we still should be cared for…. And it doesn’t matter if we’re…Black.”

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.