Why Black Girls Experience Harsher School Punishments Than Their White Peers

A recent study from the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality has found that young Black girls are perceived as less innocent and more adult-like than their White peers, especially in the 5-to-14 age range. The researchers surveyed a large group of adults from various racial and ethnic backgrounds, but the participants were predominately White women. The participants were asked to answer a questionnaire about children’s development in the 21st century and were randomly assigned to a questionnaire about either Black girls or White girls.

Across all age ranges, the participants viewed Black girls as more adult than White girls. In particular, they viewed Black girls as needing less protection and nurturing and more knowledgable about adult and sexual topics than their White peers. This bias, the researchers suggest, may make adults less likely to believe or acknowledge Black girls’ accounts of sexual assault.

Additionally, Black girls who report sexual harassment are often told that it is their fault because of how they dress. A report from the National Women’s Law Center found that Black girls are much more likely than White girls to be removed from class or sent home due to dress code violations. They are also more likely to experience disciplinary consequences when they report that they had been sexually harassed. According to a report from Columbia Law School, when Black girls speak up about sexual misconduct, they may be viewed as “causing trouble” and are often punished rather than supported.

The findings from these three reports all suggest reasons for why Black girls disproportionately experience harsher discipline in schools than their White peers. The Georgetown report reads “Regardless of the specific context, all Black girls are entitled to, and deserve, equal treatment, including equal access to the protections that are accepted as necessary and appropriate for children. Recognizing the bias underlying the adultification of Black girls is an important step toward that goal.”


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