Written by Serie McDougal
Goff, Jackson, Di Leone, Culotta, Ditomasso (2014) conducted a study examining the extent to which Black boys are perceived as children compared to other boys. They found that Black boys were perceived as older and less innocent compared to White same age peers. Building on the study about Black males, Epstein, Blake & Gonzalez (2017) recently published a study adults’ views of Black girls as less-innocent and adult-like compared to White girls.
The study consistent of an innocence questionnaire measuring adultification applied to White girls and one to Black girls. Three-hundred-and-twenty-six participants were randomly assigned to a questionnaire about their perceptions of Black girls or White girls. The results indicated that Black girls were perceived as developmentally older, needing less nurturing, needing less protecting, needing less support, more knowledgeable about sex and adult topics compared to White girls. The authors explain the implications of these results in the context of how they affect how Black girls are treated in the education and criminal justice systems.
When Black girls are seen by school officials as older and less in need of support, this may explain why they experience disproportionate school disciplining because they are viewed as more culpable for their actions leading to more harsh punishments. School disciplining such as suspensions can increase the likelihood of arrest and dropping out of school The authors apply the same logic to (Epstein, Blake & Gonzalez (2017). The authors also explain that this ideology influences the disproportionate treatment of Black girls referred to law enforcement; particularly more harsh punishments in the juvenile justice system. The authors admit that the study doesn’t go as far as it could in explaining the implications.
The implications of this study are much more far reaching that the education and criminal justice systems that the authors mention. If Black girls are removed from their child development trajectory and presumed more adultlike compared to their peers, this is likely to have implications on how they are treated in the healthcare system, religious institutions, ROTC, parenting, social welfare policy, and in the media to name a few. This methodologically sound article can be built upon with implicit bias studies and experimental designs which are better suited to establish causation on comparison to the questionnaire approach that was used. Moreover, the National Association of Black Social Workers and the National Association of Black Psychologists and similar organizations are well suited to developed counseling practices, intervention strategies, and suggested parenting practices to preempt and prepare Black girls to maintain their confidence, and to be successful and protected in hostile environments that remove the normal societal protections afforded to children. Lastly, the discipline of Africana Studies is in a key position to take the lead in the development of the current body of research on Black girlhood. This critical work is already underway by emerging young scholars like Ms. Jewell L. Bachelor who recently completed the study: Reclaiming Black girlhood: An exploration into sexual identity and femininity. The development of a body of research will provide practitioners with the data necessary to guide effective practices to mitigate the effects on the dehumanization that Black girls face.
Bachelor, J. L. (2016). Reclaiming Black girlhood: An exploration into sexual identity and
femininity. San Francisco State University, Master’s Thesis.
Epstein. R., Blake, J.J. & Gonzalez, T. (2017). Girlhood interrupted: The erasure of Black girls’ childhood. Georgetown Law: Center on Poverty and inequality.
Goff, P., Jackson, M., Di Leone, B., Culotta, C., Ditomasso, N. (2014). The essence of innocence: Consequences of dehumanizing Black children. Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology, 106(4), 526-545.