Stop Forcing Black Girls to Grow Up: The Adultification of Black Girls
Image Via CNN
When I was growing up, I always knew what was expected from me was different from my brothers. As a black girl being raised constantly around boys, I was expected to always be more mature and there were even moments when I was given more responsibilities than my elder brothers. Additionally, as a result of always being viewed as more “mature” because of my girlhood and blackness, certain actions were unacceptable because they automatically became associated with “growness” or a level of adulthood. A dance or item of clothing that may be innocent on another individual would become “grown” or adultified once associated with me as a black girl but why was this? I have now come to understand these experiences as a result of the adultification of black girls.
Adultification has various definitions but when referring to the adultification of black girls in this article, it can be understood as when “a child is exposed to adult knowledge and engaging in behaviors understood as adult-like,” often caregiving adult roles, which can lead to adultification bias that impacts black girls in disproportionately harsh ways. Adultification bias leads to children of minority groups being treated as if they are more mature than they actually are based on social standards and is a form of racial prejudice. Black girls often feel it to a different degree because black women are naturally seen as caregivers and strong, however, these are girls not women, and that is a harmful universal perception anyway.
According to Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality’s 2017 Girlhood Interrupted Study, “adults view black girls as more adult-like and less innocent than white girls.” Additionally, Georgetown Law released a succeeding study finding that “black girls routinely experience adultification bias” with co-author and leader of the Initiative on Gender, Justice and Opportunity at Georgetown law Rebecca Epstein stating they, “found that adults think black girls as young as 5 need less protection and nurturing than their white peers.” This harmful perception of Black girls leads to many experiencing prejudices in various situations as a result of their Blackness and girlhood.
There are a variety of instances in which adultification bias negatively impacts Black girls. According to Georgetown Law’s study, not only do Black girls frequently experience this bias but it is also “linked to a harsher treatment and higher standard for black girls in school.” However, it is not only in school that Black girls experience these effects as it is evident in familial roles as well as in other relationships in various aspects of their lives. Additionally, since “Negative stereotypes of black women as angry, aggressive and hypersexualized are projected onto black girls…Adults [may] attempt to change black girls’ behavior to be more passive.” Black girls are often told to “calm down”, especially when they defend themselves for cultural reasons like when they get bothered for their hair or cultural traditions or change their tone because it's “too aggressive” simply for speaking loudly or in their regular tone. This perception of their language to be aggressive is an unwarranted effect of adultification.
While there are many cases in which adultification harms black girls, “the way others perceive Black girls only gets worse with age.” Furthermore, this adultification of Black girls can have dire impacts such as, according to a New York Times article, an elementary-age Black girl having an allegation of assault and battery featured on her permanent record after throwing a ball at recess and hitting another girl in the face. It is a common occurrence for children to hit each other so why only when a young black girl is involved are the charges as serious as assault and battery? Additionally, a National Women’s Law Center’s report “concluded that dress code policy enforcement unfairly targeted black girls” which is an experience that I frequently experienced and bore witness to in my middle and high school years. All this does is teach young Black girls that, “every part of black girlhood —from their hair to their bodies and attire— has the potential to be penalized.”
The adultification of black girls creates a bias that is harmful and is integrated throughout our lives. Personally, I have felt the harsh consequences of adultification in my own girlhood as it was a substantial portion of my experience, and the same rings true for Black girls everywhere. It is important that we, as a society, recognize this adultification bias and challenge ourselves to counter this way of thinking. Black girls are not any less innocent and deserving of protection than their white counterparts or anybody else. We must challenge our previous thinking as it is rooted in prejudice and stereotypes to alleviate the trauma young black girls gain from these harmful biases.
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Featured Image Via Dom Aguiar