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Study Finds Young Black Girls Are Falsely Viewed as "Needing Less Support" than their White Peers

A recent study conducted by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, revealed that adults view young black girls as more “adultlike” and in need of less nurturing and support than their white peers. This “adultification” translates to how a black girl’s actions may be perceived and disciplined by authorities in school.

The study found that black females, particularly between the ages of 5 and 14, when compared to white females of the same age were perceived to know more about sex and other adult topics and need less comfort and protection. These perceptions can be a contributing factor in the disciplinary actions handed down to black girls in school, resulting in higher suspension rates, as well as an increased risk of trouble with law enforcement.

Findings from the study noted that black girls are 5.5 times more likely to be suspended from school than their white peers and 20 percent more likely to be charged with a crime.

Discipline that results in a child being pushed out of school can lead to a number of damaging outcomes such as: students losing interest in class, lower grades, loss of trust in adults, and run-ins with the law.

“The consequences for such punishment are profound: researchers have determined that students are more likely to be arrested on days they are suspended from school, and that suspensions are connected to higher dropout rates and increased risk of contact with the juvenile justice system,” the authors of the study wrote.

Results of the study were pulled from a survey of 325 adults, that were majority white and female—74 percent white and 62 percent female. Sixty-nine percent of respondents also had an advanced degree. Participants were randomly divided up and asked a series of identical questions about either white girls or black girls, such as “How much do [black or white] girls need protection?”

“While the scope of our research is limited, the potential implications are profound,” the study’s authors wrote. “We challenge researchers to develop new studies to investigate the degree and prevalence of adultification of Black girls, as well as its causal connections to harmful outcomes for girls across a diverse range of public systems, including the education, juvenile justice, and child welfare systems.”

The study builds upon similar research by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics that details the negative impact that a lack of a diverse teaching staff can have on young black males in school. White teachers viewed black students as 40 percent less likely to graduate high school when compared with white students. Having just one black teacher in either third, fourth, or fifth grade had an incredibly strong impact on the educational success of young black boys, reducing the high school dropout rate by 39 percent and increasing their chances of pursuing a post-secondary degree by 29 percent.

Despite elementary and secondary school students of color making up 49 percent of the public school population, only 18 percent of public school teachers are minorities.

The authors of the Georgetown study write that the biased and damaging perceptions of black girls by adults deprive them of the innocence of childhood and contribute to a false narrative. This false belief thus labels their actions as “intentional and malicious” rather than an immature kid simply making a foolish decision.

“[T]he adultification stereotype results in some [Black] children not being afforded the opportunity to make mistakes and to learn, grow, and benefit from correction for youthful missteps to the same degree as white children.”


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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