Bias plays a huge role in the treatment and discipline of Black girls
In the mountains of research about school discipline, there’s one group of students that has only recently begun to receive the attention it deserves. That group is Black girls.
According to the National Black Women’s Justice Institute analysis of Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Data from 2015–2016, Black girls are seven times more likely than white girls to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions, and three times more likely to be referred to juvenile court than their white and Latinx counterparts.
These dramatic numbers demonstrate perhaps more than any other data the strained relationship among Black girls, educators, and schools.
Rebecca Epstein, the lead author of the 2017 Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality report Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood, says the adultification of Black girls — a bias unique to Black boys as well, as found in a 2014 study published by the American Psychological Association — leads to skewed expectations based on harmful stereotypes of Black women.
In the study, researchers report that Black girls are perceived by adults to be older than white girls of the same age, as well as:
• Need less nurturing
• Need less protection
• Need to be supported less
• Need to be comforted less
• Are more independent
• Know more about adult topics
• Know more about sex
“This perception disparity,” said researcher and educator Monique Morris in a TED Talk in March, “begins when girls are as young as five years old and it increases over time and peaks when girls are between 10 and 14.
“This is not without consequence. Believing that a girl is older than she is can lead to harsher treatment, immediate censure when she makes a mistake, and victim blaming when she’s harmed. It can also lead a girl think there is something wrong with her rather than the conditions in which she finds herself.
“Black girls are routinely seen as too loud, too aggressive, too angry, too visible — qualities that are often measured in relation to non-Black girls and which don’t take into consideration what is happening in this girl’s life or her cultural norms. Where,” asks Morris, “can Black girls be Black without punishment?”