A recent follow-up report to a Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality study supported the findings that perceived innocence is a privilege not awarded to Black girls.
“Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood,” released in 2017, explains how adults view Black girls as more adult-like than their white counterparts. The projection of maturity onto young Black girls, or adultification bias, has detrimental implications when it comes to how Black girls are disciplined and alienated in schools, viewed in society, and later pipelined into the criminal justice system. When Black girls are held to unrealistically high standards of behavior, they don’t receive the benefit of the doubt.
“Listening to Black Women and Girls: Lived Experiences of Adultification Bias,” released in 2019, puts these facts and figures into visceral anecdotes by discussing the experiences of Black girls and women in focus groups conducted across the country.
“It’s like, well, I’m still a kid. Like I still mess up,” one participant in the 13–17 age group said. “But it just seems like, you hit, a specific age, like 13-years-old, and, anytime you do anything wrong, it’s, ‘Oh, you know better.’ So you’re gonna get, like, the worst punishment possible.”
In 2013–2014, Black girls made up eight percent of enrollment in K–12 schools, but 13 percent of the students suspended, according to Georgetown’s research. They were also three times more likely than their white peers to be referred to the juvenile justice system.
Black women are incarcerated at twice the rate of white women, according to the NAACP.
Hand-in-hand with these findings lies the trope of the angry Black woman. Black women and girls are “sassy” and “aggressive,” whereas their white peers are merely “defending themselves.” This double-standard is also present in the media.
Tennis star Serena Williams’ dispute with the umpire at the 2018 U.S. Open was framed as an “outburst” on ABC News, and a “meltdown” by USA Today, among other outlets.
One of Georgetown’s focus group participants said she felt adults branded Black girls as “a little too sassy” as early as preschool.
“The teacher would say she felt threatened, you know, by me expressing myself in a classroom; like, I was, like, overpowering her when a — an outspoken white person would be [viewed as], ‘Oh, they’re intelligent;’ you know?” another participant said.
The same goes for Black boys, as a groundbreaking 2014 study found that they were also perceived as older than they were and suspected of crimes as early as age 10.
Learn more about Adultification Bias: