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Why Won't Society Let Black Girls Be Children?

  • 1.  Why Won't Society Let Black Girls Be Children?

    Posted 02-10-2020 12:21 PM
    What are your thoughts on this article? Are there other groups who are subjected to adultification? What are your experiences and how have you addressed this in your communities? 

    Why Won't Society Let Black Girls Be Children?

    Adultification means teachers, parents and law enforcement are less protective and more punitive with certain kids.


    K. L. Ricks

    Punishment was a hallmark of my educational experience.

    It started when my preschool teacher labeled me as manipulative and intentionally disruptive. She even tried to film me to prove to my mother I was a problem - she never got that footage, and accused me of pretending to behave at the sight of the camera.

    Although I was only 3 years old, she was convinced that my insistent hand raising and refusal to sit still were signs that I was malicious instead of simply understimulated. As soon as I was old enough to understand what happened, my mom didn't hesitate to tell me the story each time I expressed self-doubt. She wanted me to understand I wasn't a problem, I was simply an engaged learner. In a world where falling in line was more important than shining, my strengths were a threat.

    That experience set the tone for the rest of my schooling. "Disruptive," "talkative," and "distraction" were used almost as often as my name. It meant being paddled a lot, calls home to my mother and isolation from other students as punishment.

    By high school, I stopped participating almost completely; it was easier to focus on boys than be misunderstood in the classroom.

    [Why America's black mothers and babies are in a life-or-death crisis.]

    At the time, I didn't know that my experiences weren't uncommon. I was experiencing what academics call "adultification," in which teachers, law enforcement officials and even parents view black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers. This perspective often categorizes black girls as disruptive and malicious for age-appropriate behaviors.

    Adultification means black girls are punished more frequently, even when they're under 6. According to 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.

    Now that I'm a grown woman raising a black girl, I'm at a crossroads. How can I preserve my daughter's childhood while preparing her for a world that may judge her prematurely?

    Jamilia Blake, Ph.D., a psychologist and associate professor at Texas A&M University who co-authored the 2019 report "Listening to Black Women and Girls: Lived Experiences of Adultification Bias" and its precursor, the 2017 study "Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls' Childhood," said adultification impacts black girls early in life.

    Black girls are treated like they are older than they are as early as preschool, Blake found. Unfortunately, the way others perceive Black girls gets worse with age. In one report, a young adult described her family's difficulty finding an elementary school that would accept her after an allegation of assault and battery was added to her record when a ball she threw at recess hit another girl in the face.

    Blake's work explores how sexism and racism interact to shape our experiences in education, criminal justice and even our social relationships. Her research, which was published in collaboration with the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, suggests that bias toward black girls can lead to less protection and support, and more punishment, among educators and law enforcement.

    [I'm darker than my daughter. Here's why it matters.]

    The National Women's Law Center's report "Dress Coded: Black Girls, Bodies, and Bias in D.C. Schools" concluded that dress code policy enforcement unfairly targeted black girls, echoing anecdotal evidence that every part of black girlhood - from their hair to their bodies and attire - has the potential to be penalized.

    In short, the world ages black girls up, which leaves them unable to access the privileges of childhood, like the benefit of the doubt in punishment situations and support figures like mentors.

    According to Joy Harden Bradford, Ph.D., a psychologist and host of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast, black girls are often characterized as "little women." Teachers, and even parents, may expect black girls to exceed age-appropriate levels of responsibility at home or assume they don't need to be comforted after emotionally distressing events, according to researchers.

    Dr. Bradford said adultification surfaces in the chores parents assign to black girls - many are burdened with household caretaking responsibilities from an early age. Adultification even shows up in how we criticize black girls' clothing in ways we wouldn't with boys. Within the black community, calling our girls "fast" or suggesting that they "want to be grown" and deserve whatever consequences they face for their choices ages them and robs them of their innocence.

    [Teaching your child to confront sticks, stones and 'that word.']

    Blake noted that both black boys and girls experience adultification, though it can show up differently depending on a child's gender. "We need to understand the unique experiences of black girls and black women so we can better support and empower them," she explained.

    At 1 year old, I've heard many people describe my daughter's temperament as mean, sassy or intentionally difficult. The language makes me uncomfortable. But, if I'm honest, I've made these sorts of comments myself.

    As a former victim of adultification, giving my daughter the childhood she deserves is my priority. It's up to me to ensure she has the tools to thrive in the face of bias.

    Experts I spoke to said it's important to let my kid be a kid.

    "Keeping little girls engaged in play as long as possible is important," Dr. Bradford advised.

    Words matter, too.

    Blake said awareness of adultification, self-reflection and being careful about language choices are the first steps. This might involve calling out how adults speak to and about children in your community.

    "I believe that black parents should be very explicit when communicating with their children and other adults about the descriptions of black girls' behavior," Blake said, pointing out the importance of correcting adults who use negative language to describe black youth.

    I plan to listen for phrases the like the ones that were used to punish me for being inquisitive and involved in school. Statements like, "Her grades are good but she's disruptive in class" or "She's intentionally challenging my authority" will be causes for further investigation.

    "As black parents, I know that we are tasked with having conversations with our children that others do not have to have, but it's also important to have these conversations in a way that's developmentally appropriate," Dr. Bradford added.

    A 6-year-old might not be ready for an in-depth conversation on how race and sexism make school harder for her. But she can understand the concept that there are people who treat girls differently than boys, or treat people unfairly based on how they look. When your child inevitably asks why, it's O.K. to say you don't know and to reassure her that all people deserve to be treated with love, kindness and respect.

    There's no shortage of identity-related curveballs thrown at black children. It's important that we allow them to experience childhood and its related benefits for as long as possible. We owe it to black girls to challenge the obstacles in their way.

    My childhood was compromised, but it's not too late for my daughter.


    A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez is a writer, speaker and activist who aims to bring awareness to health issues that disproportionately impact black girls and women.



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    Tonya Satchell
    Johns Hopkins University School of Education IDEALS Institute
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  • 2.  RE: Why Won't Society Let Black Girls Be Children?

    Posted 02-11-2020 09:05 AM

    Hi Tonya,

          And thank you for another wonderful and thought provoking post. It was very eye-opening. I find myself trying to be cautious of adultification in a general classroom context, but have never analyzed the way that I speak to children with regards for this specific bias. I really appreciate the way this author provided examples. As they mention, I feel it could easily just be glanced over in ways that now make the author feel sick, but they noted they have done also. Some of the phrases were so familiar and I can recall that darling child in dramatic play with her purse and play phone, as the teachers made the "harmless" comments (myself included), "she's so cute, she think she grown. She's gonna be just like…" It happens all of the time because we don't see the result and now it's great that someone is opening eyes to this.

                    I think it's very sad how this contributes to the decades of generational bias that black women have had to face and it starts so young for black women. As I meet more people, take in more literature, and media forms, I am learning of so many different obstacles that black women are up against, and it hurts to realize it is happening from such a young age, but it is such an important realization.

    I also look forward to reading some of the additional articles that were linked within this article.

     

    Thanks Again Tonya!



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    Kayleigh Francis
    Ivy Tech Community College
    Indianapolis IN
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  • 3.  RE: Why Won't Society Let Black Girls Be Children?

    Posted 02-11-2020 04:21 PM

    Tonya:

    Thank you for an article that gives such clear examples of racism towards Black girls.  There has been, and rightly so, a lot of attention paid in the last several years to Walter Gilliam's study showing that implicit bias against Black boys may explain their much higher rates of preschool expulsion than White children.  I'm glad to see an article relating to Black girls.  Adultifying any child is wrong.  I would not be surprised to know that Black girls are adultified more than White girls and are blamed for behavior that would be considered typical for a White child. There is a lot to think about in this article, maybe especially for us White educators.  Thank you for starting an important discussion and I look forward to reading the article again in more depth and reading and responding to more posts here.



    ------------------------------
    Aren Stone
    Child Development Specialist
    The Early Years Project
    Cambridge, MA
    she/her
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  • 4.  RE: Why Won't Society Let Black Girls Be Children?

    Posted 02-17-2020 04:36 PM
    Thank you for raising this Tonya,
    I've thought about this a lot as a teacher.  I used to joke about writing children's correct age on their forehead to remind myself.  If we are aiming for developmentally appropriate curriculum it's essential that we don't expect any child to act as though they are a year or more older based on our own implicit biases.  I've experienced this with children of color, children who are large for their age and children who have advanced language or motor skills.
    I'd love to hear stories about what other teachers do to help themselves to remember to have appropriate expectations for every child.  I've been know to whisper -"She's 4" under my breath to myself, just to ensure that I remember not to treat someone as older than they really are.  What do you do?

    ------------------------------
    [Meg] [Thomas]
    [Early childhood consultant
    Co-facilitator for Diversity and Equity Interest Forum
    [St Paul ] [MN]
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  • 5.  RE: Why Won't Society Let Black Girls Be Children?

    Posted 02-18-2020 05:09 PM
    Josha:  Thanks for writing about language tropes when speaking/writing about Black girls.  It's so prevalent and a good reminder for me to be really mindful about how I speak about children.
    Meg:  You bring up a similar point: that it can be easy, because of my own implicit bias, to think of children of color as older than they are. Especially since we're talking about Black girls here I wouldn't want to joke about writing their ages on their bodies as that really reminded me of Black children and adults being branded during slavery. I know that diversity and equity is one of your strong points and I am sure you had no intention to reference that but I felt I had to bring it up.  When I was in the classroom I sometimes taped a list of children's names and birthdates inside a cabinet door to remind myself of their ages.

    ------------------------------
    Aren Stone
    Child Development Specialist
    The Early Years Project
    Cambridge, MA
    she/her
    ------------------------------



  • 6.  RE: Why Won't Society Let Black Girls Be Children?

    Posted 02-20-2020 03:12 PM
    Aren you are absolutely right.  I really appreciate your catch of the way I let a painful piece of history slip into the way I wrote.  Thanks so much for the helpful response.  I am really appreciating all the people who are there to help me correct mistakes these days.  A better way to say it would be that I want to find ways to remind myself of the actual age of every child I work with- rather than letting assumptions lead me into treating children as older or more knowledgeable about the world than they actually are.

    ------------------------------
    [Meg] [Thomas]
    [Early childhood consultant
    Co-facilitator for Diversity and Equity Interest Forum
    [St Paul ] [MN]
    ------------------------------



  • 7.  RE: Why Won't Society Let Black Girls Be Children?

    Posted 02-21-2020 07:55 AM
    Meg:
    Thank you so much for 'hearing' my reply and not taking offense.  We ALL have things to learn and the mistakes I've made in this area would be way too long a post.  I really appreciate that we can have these virtual discussions and learn from each other on this forum.

    ------------------------------
    Aren Stone
    Child Development Specialist
    The Early Years Project
    Cambridge, MA
    she/her
    ------------------------------



  • 8.  RE: Why Won't Society Let Black Girls Be Children?

    Posted 02-21-2020 08:49 AM
    Me too Aren.  I have given up trying to prevent putting my foot in my mouth. The only way to do so is to not talk to anyone who is substantially different from me and to never discuss any form of oppression.   My goal now is to get my foot back out with a little grace and to avoid causing any more harm in the process.
    Thanks again for taking the time to send me a reminder to think about the way I talk about things.
    Meg

    ------------------------------
    [Meg] [Thomas]
    [Early childhood consultant
    Co-facilitator for Diversity and Equity Interest Forum
    [St Paul ] [MN]
    ------------------------------



  • 9.  RE: Why Won't Society Let Black Girls Be Children?

    Posted 02-15-2020 09:40 PM
    Thank you for this article, Tonya.
    It raises some very serious issues.  I lived in a very mixed neighborhood purposely, because one of my children is of mixed race and I thought it was important for this child to see others with similar coloring.  Perhaps because most of the kids were of different shades, and the staff was so used to it, I don't think I ever heard that type of descriptions of the girls in the school. I know nobody described my child like that to me, who was active in the schools, PTAs etc.
    I did see some of it years before my children came along, when I taught in a school in a mostly black neighborhood with mostly white staff.  I stopped eating lunch in the teachers' room because I couldn't stand how they spoke about the children they taught.  Racism is pervasive and articles such as this illustrate various dimensions that many white teachers never think about.

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    Ellen Cogan, MS Ed - Owner, Chief Consultant - HILLTOP Early Childhood SERVICES
    NYS Early Learning Credentialed Trainer
    NYS Master Cadre, Pyramid Model
    Implementation Planner, Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership
    www.earlychildinfo.com
    ------------------------------



  • 10.  RE: Why Won't Society Let Black Girls Be Children?

    Posted 02-17-2020 07:14 AM
    When you mentioned media, I immediately thought of how CoCo Gauff has been a 15 year old tennis sensation, but at the same time they use words like aggressive instead of powerful.  This is how they have described Serina Williams for years and it's a shame that no one has called out the two different standards that black girls and other girls are held by.  People have been using negative descriptive language to oppress black girls for centuries.  The common term, disrespectful, is used to describe black girls often.  Disrespectful can mean anything so educators must be more intentional with their language to speak positively about our young queens.

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    Josha Barton
    Kids First
    Raleigh NC
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