Black Kids Are Stripped Of Innocence

Recent studies reveal what many of us already know: Black kids are misperceived as older and more spoiled.

A study conducted by Professor Phillip Goff in 2014  found that Black boys as early as age 10 are more likely than white boys to be misperceived as older, to be viewed as guilty of suspected crimes and to face police violence if accused of a crime. For a reference point, think of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

On Tuesday a similar study was released by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Equality. “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood” reveals that Black girls are viewed as less innocent than their white counterparts.

“Across all age ranges, participants viewed Black girls collectively as more adult than white girls,” the study reports. “Responses revealed, in particular, that participants perceived Black girls as needing less protection and nurturing than white girls, and that Black girls were perceived to know more about adult topics and are more knowledgeable about sex than their white peers.”

Not only do the researchers report that “Black girls were more likely to be viewed as behaving and seeming older than their stated age,” they also find that this dynamic is in place for girls as young as 5 years old. When asked what she found most surprising about the results, Jamilia Blake, an associate professor at Texas A&M University and one of the report’s authors, said: “The age that we start to see this was very shocking. The fact that you would think a 5-year-old is more knowledgeable about sex is amazing to me.”

The authors say they hint at a broader trend of Black girls enduring more punitive treatment than their peers: “Simply put, if authorities in public systems view black girls as less innocent, less needing of protection, and generally more like adults, it appears likely that they would also view black girls as more culpable for their actions and, on that basis, punish them more harshly despite their status as children.”

“Adultification contributes to a false narrative that black youths’ transgressions are intentional and malicious, instead of the result of immature decision-making—a key characteristic of childhood,” the authors write. “Ultimately, adultification is a form of dehumanization, robbing Black kids of the very essence of what makes childhood distinct from all other developmental periods: innocence. Adultification contributes to a false narrative that Black youths’ transgressions are intentional and malicious, instead of the result of immature decision-making—a key characteristic of childhood. In essence, “the adultification stereotype results in some Black kids not being afforded the opportunity”48 to make mistakes and to learn, grow, and benefit from correction for youthful missteps to the same degree as white children.”


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