In 2017, our research uncovered a form of bias Black women and girls already knew well from experience: adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers, even in the 5-9 year-old age bracket. We’re working to raise public awareness and overcome this form of bias.
In 2017, the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality released a groundbreaking study, Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood, which revealed that adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers. The quantitative data showed that even in the age bracket of 5-9 years old, adults perceive Black girls as needing less nurturing, protection, and comforting than white girls of the same age, and that they’re more independent. The peak difference in adults’ perception of innocence appeared in the 10-14 year-old age bracket. The potential implications of these findings are profound: they may help explain why Black girls tend to receive harsher treatment in schools and the juvenile justice system. If authority figures hold Black girls to a more adult-like standard, or view them as fundamentally less innocent, they may be less likely to extend leniency to them, or give them a second chance.
Because the Initiative on Gender Justice & Opportunity values the voices of women and girls, we conducted qualitative follow-up research to our original report. In focus groups across the country, Black women and girls confirmed that the experience of adultification bias is common. One participant said:
“If you see, like, a little white girl that’s crying, people will be more sympathetic than if you see a little Black girl that’s crying. You [adults] don’t have that same level of empathy for them because it’s just like, okay; like, I feel bad for this little white person because her tears carry more value than [a] Black girl’s.”
We released a multimedia campaign to end adultification bias. A short graphic-novel style video explains the concept of adultification bias and our findings; a social media campaign with the hashtag #EndAdultificationBias aims to collect comments and stories; and an online storytelling portal, EndAdultificationBias.org, is intended to elevate awareness of adultification bias, build community, share resources, and engage in the power of storytelling by centering the experiences of Black women and girls.
Our report’s call to action has shaped local efforts to overcome this form of bias. For example, a coalition in Austin, TX called “The Innocence Initiative” is engaged in a public awareness campaign to overcome adultification bias and research to identify how this form of bias appears in northern Texas. We are proud to be attributed as the motivating factor for this coalition, which is translating our national research into local action.
And in 2019, the National Museum of Women in the Arts hosted an event in DC to raise awareness of adultification bias. At the event, our Executive Director and Senior Scholar presented our research on adultification bias; two local artists presented the work that we commissioned to express their response to our research; and two girls, including one of our youth advisors, discussed their experiences with adultification bias. Watch the full recording of the event here.
Share your stories, resources, or words of encouragement to help build community and elevate awareness of adultification bias.