Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood
24 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2017
Date Written: June 27, 2017
Children occupy a unique position in our public systems. Once treated as miniature adults, our perception of young people’s innocence and ongoing development has led, over time, to granting children leniency when determining the consequences of their behavior. The special legal status bestowed on youth, in particular, is based on a well-established understanding of children’s social and psychological development — that they should be held less responsible and culpable for their actions, and that they are capable, through the ongoing developmental process, of rehabilitation. These foundational legal and moral principles protect children from criminalization and extend safeguards that shield them from the harsh penalties levied on adults.
To date, limited quantitative research has assessed the existence of adultification for Black girls — that is, the extent to which race and gender, taken together, influence our perception of Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers. This groundbreaking study provides — for the first time — data showing that adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers, especially in the age range of 5-14.
In light of proven disparities in school discipline, we suggest that the perception of Black girls as less innocent may contribute to harsher punishment by educators and school resource officers. Furthermore, the view that Black girls need less nurturing, protection, and support and are more independent may translate into fewer leadership and mentorship opportunities in schools. Given established discrepancies in law enforcement and juvenile court practices that disproportionately affect Black girls, the perception of Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like may contribute to more punitive exercise of discretion by those in positions of authority, greater use of force, and harsher penalties.
Keywords: Adultification, School Discipline, Juvenile Justice, Race, Gender, Intersectionality, Psychology, Bias, Disproportionality
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