What Is Adultification Bias?

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Black women are often subject to the adultifcation at a young age.

Adultification describes a racial prejudice where children of minorities are treated and perceived as less innocent and more mature than they actually are.  Whether this prejudice is received from educators, parents, peers, law enforcement, etc, nearly all-Black girls and boys have experienced it. 

 According to a 2017 study by Girlhood Interrupted: The Eraser of Black Girls’ Childhood,  Black women grow up less supported and nurtured from prominent caretaking figures which negatively impacts the development of identity. 

“I was less supported at my school than my white peers,” Brooke Hinkle, 15, a student at Marlborough School said. “Some teachers did not try as hard to understand or help me with most things.” 

By being seen as more ‘adult’ or mature, black girls are punished more severely because they are not viewed or treated as the age they really are. This is a very dangerous and common situation though, especially with the American school and justice system.  

As stated in a report from the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection, from 2013-2014, only 20 percent of female preschoolers were black, but black girls made up 54 percent of female preschool children with one or more suspensions. 

“Being a Black person, you won’t be given a second chance for redemption compared to your white counterparts because you are more at risk of being demonized or criminalized, “ Idalis McZeal, 16, student at Harvard-Westlake School said. “I can’t really make those types of mistakes that other people at my school are able to because I’m scared I won’t have another chance.” 

In Georgetown Law’s study on adultification bias, one student shared her own story of disproportionate punishment. During a group recess game, she threw a ball that hit one of her classmates in the face. As punishment, they accused her of assault and battery which went on her record. She had to transfer schools but had difficulty finding one who would enroll her due to her record. With the fear of harsh repercussions, Black girls are often opted out of joining in on childhood experiences that white children could participate without hesitation.

“I have a big personality and it is often interpreted as disruptive, loud and rowdy. In a class or even outside of school, I’ll be talking with someone and I’ll be reprimanded for it,” McZeal said. “Obviously, I’m not making conversation with myself, it’s a mutual effort but I’m always pinned with the blame, it has made me feel ashamed to be myself”. 

There is a stigma placed on Black women that they are loud, aggressive and disrespectful, and it begins at an early age. Using negative and hurtful terms to describe Black women’s behavior often makes some feel self-conscious about their reactions and personalities. Degrading language towards Black women seriously impacts self-expression and esteem.

“There was this assumption that you’re cussing people out, drinking, and having sex,” a participant in Georgetown Law’s research focus group said. “But, since I’d never thought about that before, they were basically introducing me to those topics right then!” 

Black girls are seen as promiscuous and fast from a young age and are consequently introduced to sexually related and mature topics so young. These preconceived notions that black girls are ‘fast,’ play a part in the safety and the high statistics of sexual violence towards black women. According to The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community, 40-60% of Black women report being subjected to coercive sexual contact by age 18. 

“We are expected to immediately know how to do everything perfectly and not make any mistakes when in reality we are just children trying to learn and live freely,” Hinkle said. “Black girls are sexualized since birth, shown by people making comments on our bodies and policing what we wear, by saying it’s ‘too grown’ or something that has sexual connotations when we are too young to even understand. Adultification starts when Black children, especially Black girls are born.”