Words of Empowerment for Black Women and Girls
Sharing social media posts can help raise awareness about adultification bias.
This helpful swipe-through explanation of adultification bias, developed by Context Project on Instagram, is an example of posts you can create and share to raise awareness about adultification bias. You can download and share this post on your social accounts, and tag Context Project, to join the campaign to #endadultificationbias.
MEASURE, in partnership with Lone Star Justice Alliance and the Travis County Juvenile Defenders Office, has trained over 700 Defense Attorneys to make sure they are genuinely representing Black girls.
The first person an arrested black girl sees is usually a Juvenile Defender who works exclusively for them. Their job is to be the voice of a child during prosecution and to make sure their rights are put first. Defenders are supposed to be the champions of our girls during the justice process and are also the only ones legally allowed to speak to Black girls to get their side of the story. These defenders need to know what adultification bias is and need the tools to fight against it!
Learn more at www.wemeasure.org
Follow us on Instagram: @weMEASUREus
Lesson Overview - Featured New York Times Article: “‘A Battle for the Souls of Black Girls’” by Erica L. Green, Mark Walker and Eliza Shapiro.
For years, education reform has looked at discipline disparities between Black boys and white boys. However, recent cases have brought to the forefront the ways in which Black girls are disciplined at rates close to those of Black boys — and in some cases, the inequity between Black girls and white girls is greater than that between Black boys and white boys. In this lesson, you will learn about several recent cases of Black girls being disciplined in school, and about the research conducted to illuminate the inequality and encourage activism and change. Then, you will reflect on the themes of the article or watch a portion of a documentary about the issue.
In this lesson, you will learn about several recent cases of Black girls being disciplined in school, and about the research conducted to illuminate the inequality and encourage activism and change. Then, you will reflect on the themes of the article or watch a portion of a documentary about the issue.
Before reading, reflect on your identity and experiences, considering how they might affect how you respond to the themes in the featured article. You will not need to share your responses with anyone, so spend five minutes free-writing in your journal to the following prompts:
Do you feel safe and supported in school? Why?
How do you think your identity has affected your experience in school?
Have you ever had a teacher, administrator or peer make a negative assumption about you based on some aspect of your identity?
As you continue with the lesson, keep in mind how your experiences shape your understanding of the themes in the article.
Therapy for Black Girls published an article about understanding the difference between the adultification of black girls and embracing sexuality.
A 2017 study conducted by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality found that in comparison to White girls, Black girls between the ages of 5 and 14 were perceived as:
- more independent
- knowing more about adult topics and sex
- requiring less nurturing, protection, support, and comfort
These adultifying views of black girls are rooted in historical stereotypes of black women, categorized into three dominant themes, that emerged in the South during slavery:
- Jezebel – hypersexualized, seductive
- Sapphire – loud, aggressive, angry, emasculating
- Mammy – nurturing, self-sacrificing
The following statistics represent the sexual consequences of the adultifiying views of black girls that the Georgetown study found:
- 40% to 60% of black women report being subjected to coercive sexual contact by age 18
- 1 in 4 black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18.
- African American girls and women 12 years and older experienced higher rates of rape and sexual assault than White, Asian, and Latina girls and women from 2005-2010.
It is apparent that the adultification of black girls is rooted in racism and puts black girls at higher risk for sexual abuse. This is a public health crisis. We must continue to advocate for the protection of black girls and to demand media depictions of black girls and women that do not perpetuate the adultification of black girls.
Now that we understand the adultification of black girls and it’s sexual consequences, let us explore what it means for Black Girls to embrace their sexuality. According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control in 2017, an estimated 55% of male and female teens have had sexual intercourse by age 18. This finding suggests that black girls, among other teens, are embracing their sexuality. This also suggests that 45% of black girls and other teens may be practicing abstinence.
How do we understand the difference between the adultification of black girls and embracing sexuality?
An important difference between addultification and embracing sexuallity is the mental health impact. Sexual abuse or trauma are associated with post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, substance misuse and eating disorders. Survivors may feel ashamed, guilty or shocked and may also experience flashbacks. If you have been sexually abused, it is important to remember that the abuse was not your fault. Healthy sexual expression is associated with increased confidence; decreased stress, anxiety and depression and improved emotion regulation.
Another important part of this exploration are the conversations that take place between black girls and their parent(s). Adolescents who have open, caring and non-judgmental conversations with their parent(s) about sex are more likely to delay having sex or use condoms and contraceptives. (CDC, 2014) If you have created a safe space for your teen to talk with you about sex, they may also be more likely to talk to you if they have experienced sexual abuse. Open and honest conversations also create a space to define consent and abuse, further empowering teens to know when they have been abused and to report it.
A key theme in this post is respect. Society needs to respect black girls by dismantling racist stereotypes that lead to the adultication of black girls. Black bodies, to include girls, boys, women and men need to be respected. This not only applies to sexual abuse but also violent acts commited by police and white supremacists. Finally, parents are encouraged to show their children that they respect their bodies and autonomy by having safe and healthy discussions about sex. These types of respect may lead to the elimination of the adultification of black girls and healthy sexual expression.
If you have experienced sexual abuse, you can contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673) for support. Many therapists specialize in treating sexual trauma. To find a therapist, check out the Therapy for Black Girls Therapist Directory.
Through doll play, an L.A. therapist reminds Black girls of their innocence.
In the first study of its kind in 2017, Georgetown researchers found that adults believed Black girls needed less nurturing and protection, were more independent and knew more about sex than white girls of the same age.
“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,” researchers wrote.
The study asserted that such bias contributes to the harsher treatment of Black girls in the education and juvenile justice systems, and fewer mentorship and leadership opportunities being available to them. Black girls are nearly six times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts, according to research by the African American Policy Forum and Columbia Law School.
As a therapist, Curry knew that if children aren’t given the time and space to play, imagine, explore and be free of the pressures and stresses of their world, there’s a much higher chance that they will be more childlike as adults.
“They’ll struggle with responsibilities to take care of their own,” Curry said in an interview with The Times. “They’ll struggle with intimacy. They’ll struggle with having conversations with their partners. So we want them to experience childhood at appropriate age levels.”
Curry had observed this early abandonment of childhood firsthand.
In 2018, she helped lead a therapeutic dance program for school-age girls in the Imperial Courts public housing development in Watts. Instead of engaging in what is traditionally thought of as play, the girls interacted by showing each other Instagram posts and YouTube videos. She heard a man in the community casually call one of the girls “woman.”
When Curry got to Crete, she asked the girls she counseled whether they played with dolls. Some said they had a doll at home but were sometimes stopped from playing, and were instead told to take care of a younger sibling or to brush their teeth. One girl said her grandmother sold her doll because her family needed money for rent.
“Playtime from their perspective was like a privilege, and so I just wanted to change that narrative for them,” Curry said.
When she read the Georgetown study on adultification bias, a light bulb went off.
“I totally think this is real. This is a thing,” Curry told Crete Principal Hattie Mitchell after sharing the study with her. “I want to do something.”
Words of empowerment, submitted by a 21 year old male.
Words of empowerment, submitted by a 21 year old male.
Prosecutors can play a powerful role in ending the effects of Adultification Bias.
Prosecutors can play a powerful role in ending the effects of Adultification Bias. Watch here to see Florida’s state attorney general publicly establish, as a matter of policy, that she would refuse to approve moving forward with any case of young children arrested for misbehavior in school, specifically to end contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline.
A coalition of organizations in Austin, Texas is combating adultification bias
A coalition of organizations in Austin, Texas is combating adultification bias against Black girls in response to the call to action in Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood. Their community has decided on six courses of action:
1. A community empowerment and Girl Scouts recruitment event focusing on Girls of Color
2. The development of an online tool to connect parents and guardians to lawyers when faced with potential criminalizing outcomes
3. Training 50 defense attorneys in Central Texas
4. Pushing for a public health approach to potentially criminalizing behavior in schools
5. Launching a public education campaign
6. Issuing a report with the support of Georgetown University on the impact of the adultification of Black girls in Central Texas.
Let Black Girls Be Girls: End 'Adultification' Bias – https://t.co/X6AIXDCx3H
— S.R.Toliver, Ph.D. (@SR_Toliver) June 12, 2019
Black girls experience multiple forms of oppression including being hypersexualized from an incredibly young age. We must end the adultification of Black girls and ensure they, like other children, receive the care and support they deserve. #EndAdultificationBias #LetGirlsBeGirls pic.twitter.com/KiTjKpVE1o
— rights4girls (@rights4girls) May 28, 2019
"Black girls and women told the reports co-authors they not only experienced adultification bias, but that it often translated to harsher punishments and higher standards for Black girls in school." @nrojas0131https://t.co/Dc0zN4XRp7 pic.twitter.com/gLWXd4eOHU
— The North Star (@TheNorthStar) May 22, 2019
— Alabama NAACP (@AlabamaNAACP) May 20, 2019
"A new study shows how racism and bias deny black girls their childhoods" @GtownLawPovCntr
Their study on adultification bias has given me the language and data to support what I've witnessed my whole life. Please #LetBlackGirlsBeGirls. Protect them. https://t.co/u2tSanBsRd
— Jamile the Teacher (@jamiletheteachr) May 20, 2019
— RALIANCE (@RALIANCEOrg) May 20, 2019
— John King (@JohnBKing) May 20, 2019
— Sharon L. Contreras (@scontrerasGCS) May 18, 2019
A new report on adultification bias shows how adults presume Black girls as being more "adult-like" and less innocent than white peers https://t.co/35V9WnAT2J
— VICE (@VICE) May 17, 2019
We stand with the @gtownlawpovcntr campaign #LetBlackGirlsBeGirls to help end “adultification bias”—the perception of Black girls as less innocent than their peers. Share your story and help us change the narrative: https://t.co/XZ25dlaMq0#blackgirls #ourgirlsaresacredandloved pic.twitter.com/tpHkusGhm6
— National Black Women’s Justice Institute (NBWJI) (@NBWJInstitute) May 17, 2019
Horrified and confused
When I was 13 years old, I started having tremendous stomach pains. My mom took me to the emergency room, where I was barraged with questions about my sexual history (I was a virgin). They gave me an ultrasound, and they pulled my mom outside of the room to tell her that I had something “similar” to pregnancy. Huh? I think they meant they thought I was having an ectopic pregnancy or something like that. Of course, I was horrified and confused. It turned out, I had appendicitis. My appendix ended up rupturing and I was in the hospital for a week.
My daughter felt unsafe
My nine year old daughter is African American. She is enrolled in the public school system gifted program. During school lunch one day, she and a white female student were assaulted by a white boy. A school official called me after school to inform me that my daughter was punched in the stomach, kneed in the stomach and hit on her head. My daughter reported that her head was violently pushed against the face of the white female student. Sadly, the white girl had a swollen eye as a result of the incident. The white student was sent to the school nurse for medical evaluation; however, my daughter was sent back to class alongside her attacker. When I asked why I was not contacted at the time of the incident and why my daughter was not also evaluated by the school nurse, I was told that she was not crying that much and seemed to be ok. The boy was also allowed to return to school the following day. Even more discomforting, my daughter did not receive the emotional support necessary to process this type of assault. She felt unsafe for days, nervous and afraid of what could happen to her if she returned to school. Upon my request to have a meeting with school officials, the incident was minimized and I was told that it was a simple case of kids pushing and shoving in the line. Imagine the dissatisfaction and disbelief that I felt to learn that the school system would allow this type of treatment of any child, regardless of her race.
My child has feelings
Since pre-k, my biracial daughter has been adultified with adult skill sets applied to her normal childhood behaviors and differences and nefarious intentionality ascribed to her behaviors. She is not afforded the presumption of childhood innocence or the right to the childhood developmental expectations. She has repeatedly been removed from her classroom, received lunchroom and recess punishment, pathologized (recommended for counseling 1x/week for crying in kindergarten, and suspended several times for merely crying in class). She was accused and investigated in 1st grade for bullying and vandalism because parents in our school view her as “a bit of a mean girl,” “a ring leader, “aggressive,” “hostile” and having “something wrong” with her. Parents have described her as smart and calculating … at 6! When incidents have happened to her, they are underreported or misreported, minimized as not being all that hurtful or problematic. My child has feelings, does feel pain, and deserves to be valued and cared for as do all children.
When A Bad Call Brought Courtside Humiliation
It was the day of the championship game. If we won, we’d move on to the next division, with a shot at the state championship title.
We were all pumped up and ready to go as we saw how full the gym had become with family members, friends, and townspeople. I gave my parents the usual smile and wave and got on the court. The game was about to start when I realized the referees were all huddled around the scorer’s table looking and pointing at me. Confused, I looked at my parents who shared the same expression. In front of the large crowd of people, the referee pulled me off the court and started asking me questions about my age. “How old are you?” The referee stared at me long and hard not accepting my constant answer of “Eleven.” Continuing to say “You shouldn’t be playing right now. You’re not eleven.” and “You shouldn’t be lying about your age.”
The world seemed to stop as everyone stared at me in what felt like, disappointment. Tears stung my face as I stared at my sneakers wishing I could’ve disappeared, wishing that this was all just a bad dream. I never liked being called a liar and here I was being called one by an adult in front of all my peers. My parents had to go back home to retrieve my birth certificate before I was able to play; Costing me half the game. When the referees realized that I was eleven and developed for my age, I didn’t get an apology. Instead, they just let me back into the game, conveniently glossing over their blatant humiliation of me. I will never forget that moment. The shame that came with it or how I then became more conscious of my appearance.
Looking back, I remember the conscious efforts of my mother putting barrettes and beads in my hair, how she made sure that I “dressed my age.” Now, I see that those decisions weren’t just for the purpose of fashion, but a form of protection.