Erasure of Black Girls' Childhoods

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Everyone forms opinions about topics that inform their attitudes and behaviors. This process might even predispose people to view things in a certain way, even without having all of the facts.

These dynamics can have serious consequences for the targets of the negative attitudes. In some cases, opportunities might be limited, while in others, people might be more harshly punished, relative to their peers.

New research from Texas A&M’s Jamilia Blake and her colleagues points to these very events among Black girls in schools. Their study showed that adults perceive Black girls age 5-14 as more adult-like and less innocent than their White peers.

Specifically, adults believed that, relative to Whites, Black girls were less nurturing, needed less protection, were in need of less support and comfort, were more independent, knew more about adult topics, and knew more about sex.

What do these findings mean for Black girls and their everyday lives? Blake and her colleagues suggest that perceptions of Black girls as less innocent may correspond with disparities in school discipline. Black girls, for instance, routinely receive harsher punishments from educators and resource officers than do Whites.

The different beliefs might also account for low levels of leadership and mentoring opportunities for Black girls. After all, if adults believe Black girls are not in need of support, nurturing, or comfort, why offer extra counseling or guidance?

The research team’s findings are also relevant in the juvenile justice system. Beliefs that Black girls are more adult-like is possibly linked with the harsh and punitive punishments they receive.

This research highlights the need for educational and justice system reforms that reduce the impact of racial biases in decision making.