Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls' Childhood
This report describes a study conducted to determine whether adults assign African American girls qualities that render them more like adults--and less innocent--than their white peers. The authors surveyed a community sample of 325 adults from various racial and ethnic backgrounds and different educational levels across the U.S. Participants were predominantly white (74 percent) and female (62 percent). They each completed one of two randomly assigned questionnaires--one asking about respondents' perceptions of African American girls and the other asking about white girls. Responses to the two sets of questions were compared and analyzed. Across all age ranges, participants viewed African American girls as more adult than white girls and as needing less protection and nurturing. They were also perceived by respondents as being more knowledgeable about sex than their white peers. Results indicate that African American girls are viewed as more adult than their white peers at almost all stages of childhood, beginning most significantly at the age of five. The researchers suggest that these results may be a contributing cause of demonstrated harsher treatment of African American girls conpared to white girls of the same age. That is, adultification may serve as a contributing cause of disproportionality in school discipline outcomes, harsher treatment by law enforcement, and the differentiated exercise of discretion by officials across the spectrum of the juvenile justice system.