There is no doubt that society still has a long way to go until we reach a point where racial biases are non-existent. And unfortunately, a study has confirmed that, yes, black girls do face more discrimination than white girls—as young as five years old.
This study from Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality found that black girls are perceived as "less innocent" than female classmates of other ethnicities. The study defined "less innocent" as “lack of worldliness and need for protection.” While there have been previous studies looking at the way black boys are perceived, this one is the first of its kind.
The researchers also found that black girls are perceived to be more mature than white girls. To get these results, they surveyed 325 adults of various racial and ethnic backgrounds (74 percent were white), as well as varying educational levels across the United States. Through a nine-item questionnaire, participants were asked how often they thought black females and white females ages 0 to 19 seemed older than their age, how much they needed to be comforted and how much they knew about sex.
The results of the findings were that black girls were perceived to be more mature and less innocent, which directly affects young black females with the way they're treated in educational and criminal justice systems. This "adultification" makes adults cast the same stereotypes on kids as they do on adult black women. “It’s the stereotype of black women as being loud, aggressive, and over-sexualized,” said co-author Jamilia Blake, of Texas A&M University, to the New York Times. “You can trace [these] all the way back to slavery.” Studies have shown that these prejudices are what lead black girls to be five times more likely to get suspended than white girls and boys.
While this study is depressing, the researchers are using their results as a call to action, to get people talking about this issue, to make adults address their own biases and to encourage black girls, especially, to speak up about the negative stereotypes put upon them. It is also important for parents to educate themselves and their kids about racism, privilege, racial equality and prejudice.
“All black girls are entitled to and deserve equal treatment," said Rebecca Epstein, lead author and executive director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality at the Georgetown University Law Center to the New York Times. "Including equal access to the protections that are appropriate for children.”
This article was originally published online in June 2017.