A new study revealed that adults perceive black girls as “less innocent” than white girls.
Yes, this is just as depressing and effed up as it sounds.
The study, conducted by Georgetown’s Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, is featured in their new publication, Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood. In it, 325 adults from various racial, ethnic, and economic background across the United States were asked to measure items stereotypically associated with black girls and women on a scale of childhood innocence. The participants were surveyed on their perception of both black girls and white girls. The results? Pretty damn disheartening.
The adults believed that black girls knew more about sex and other adult topics than white girls. Black girls were also perceived to be older than white girls of the same age. And on top of that, they didn’t seem to think that black girls need as much protection or support as white girls.
As alarming as this is, these results are pretty unsurprising to many black women, myself included. Some glass half full types might believe that this idea that black girls don’t need as much support, that they can take care of themselves, stems from the media’s (seemingly positive) Strong Black Woman archetype. For example, the single black mom taking care of her kids, or the more cartoonish sassy black woman who is independent and “don’t need a man.” Insert snapping in a Z formation here. But for the rest of us who are a little more on the glass half empty side, we know these results stem from the fact that black girls and women are inherently more sexualized than their white counterparts. Black girls and women are perceived to be more loud, more aggressive, and more threatening; in other words, bad. White kids are given a little more leeway.
This perception of black girls’ inherent “badness” can be seen in everything from the fact that black girls are suspended and expelled at a higher rate than most boys, to the 2015 Texas pool party incident in which a black teen girl was tackled by a police officer more than twice her size, to the fact that the news doesn’t focus on their disappearances as much as white girls. The sexualization of black girls at an early age could also account for the fact that they experience higher rates of sexual assault.
On a personal note, I distinctly remember a white friend of mine in high school telling me that her strict mother thought I was a bad influence on her. The reason: I lingered at her house once at the end of our play date while my dad was outside waiting for me. Let the record show that I was probably the most prudish kid of the entire friend group: I never drank, did drugs, did any kind of risky behavior, none of that. But that one infraction marked me as a bad influence for the rest of our friendship. Needless to say, I never looked at her mom the same way again. That, on top of the fact that I’ve been followed around in stores for as long as I can remember, was always believed to look older than I was as early as elementary school, and got less help in school than I likely would have if I wasn’t the token black girl, really set me up to be perceived as less inherently innocent and less needing of support than my white classmates and friends.
That realization really messes with your head as a kid, let me tell you.
It’s no wonder that people have clung to carefree black girl imagery. When you’re forced to grow up fast in a society that refuses to see you as a child, or a vulnerable young person, you need any reminder of your inherent goodness that you can manage.
Have you seen this racism play out IRL? Tell us in the comments!