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Exploitation of Innocence - Report: Perceptions, policies hurting Black girls

By Charlene Muhammad -National Correspondent- | Last updated: Jul 4, 2017 - 11:21:16 AM

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She could have a baby doll in one hand and crayons in the other, but a Black girl as young as five-years-old is seen as less innocent and more adult-like than her White peers, according to a new study.


“Girlhood Interrupted,” released by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, indicated that perception is of Black girls age 5 through age 14.

Adults from various racial, ethnic and educational backgrounds surveyed on-line said they felt Black girls need less nurturing, less protection, and need to be supported and comforted less than White girls their age.

Further, they viewed Black girls as more independent, and believed the girls knew more about adult topics and more about sex.

Thalia González, co-author of the report and associate professor and chair of the Politics Department at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said researchers were very struck by perceptions despite the ages of the Black female children.

“What does that mean? That’s kindergarten, 1st grade. That means what we’re seeing is that adults view girls as young as five-years- old as needing less protection, less support, or less nurturing than their White classmates, and that’s really shocking,” Prof. González told The Final Call.

‘Parents do it inadvertently. Schools do it all the time. They (Black girls) complain bitterly about their schooling. They complain bitterly about rape and sexual assault, to just everything, so the irony of this report is while people are viewing our girls negatively as not innocent, we are missing the fact that in reality, their innocence is being exploited all the time.’ —Atty. Barbara Arnwine

The survey builds on similar results found in a 2014 study of Black boys, which found those views are coming across at age 10, the visiting researcher at the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality noted.

Prof. González attributed the views to dominant paradigms and stereotypes of Black women and Black femininity, which began as early slavery and persist today.

“This idea of Black feminists, angry Black women, for example, or very sexual, hyper-sexualized, seductive women, and those stereotypes that are present in the media, for example, or in other forms and venues are being associated with young girls,” she stated.

A few of the stereotypes have played out in the media, such as Richland County Sheriff Ben Fields captured on video as he slammed and dragged a young Black female student at Spring Valley High School last October, or Eric Casebolt, former McKinney, Texas Police Department corporal, who knelt on the back of a 14-year-old Black girl dressed in a bikini at a pool party.

Prof. González said it’s not just those things, but data proves the point. “We know that across the country, Black girls are three times more likely to be referred to the juvenile justice system than White girls, that schools are more likely to have them arrested,” she said.

Once they’re in the system, they are 20 percent more likely to be charged with a crime than White girls, she said.

“Girlhood Interrupted” suggested that in light of proven disparities in school discipline, the perception of Black girls as less innocent may contribute to harsher punishment by educators and school resource officers.

Furthermore, the view that Black girls need less nurturing, protection, and support and are more independent may translate into fewer leadership and mentorship opportunities in schools, the study continued.

“Maybe one of the reasons that we see so much disproportionality is because of adultification and this imposition of differential views and expectations about the development of Black girls compared to their White peers,” Prof. González stated.

She feels there is absolutely time for change, and said the study is a call to action, not just a collection of facts and data.

“First, it’s recognizing it. It’s naming it. … It’s putting it out into a public space so that as individuals, we can start to address it, but more importantly as collective institutions we can,” Prof González said.


“Girlhood Interrupted” recommends training teachers, police officers, school resource officers, prosecutors, and other adults in authority in schools on biases and stereotypes.

“It’s very common that people don’t realize that they’ve internalized all of these other ideas, and they’re acting on them, and so if you’re bringing them forward and they’re trained on them, that can also make a change,” Prof. González said.

As she reflected on the study, Dr. Ava Muhammad, attorney, author, radio personality and Nation of Islam student minister, noted that Blacks are dealing with the law of cause and effect. Ofttimes people are so focused on the effect, they forget about the root cause, she said.

Min. Muhammad said America was founded in human trafficking of Black people, and part of the psychological base to create and sustain a race-based society is having to re-define human beings as sub-human, which has been constitutionalized, she said.

The country has redefined and re-categorized Black youth and Black children in order to justify mistreating and mishandling them, she said.

Black people as a whole have rejected God’s plan for their salvation, given to them by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and have fallen into a trap that lends credence to what the perceptions revealed in the study, she said.

According to Min. Muhammad, Blacks girls have become aggressive, and so-called sexualized at an early age, because in the economic desolation of the Black colonies, Black children aren’t allowed to be children.

She said part of that’s due to the fall of the Black family and explosion of the single female headed households. As a result, toddlers are exposed to violent video games and real-life violence, she said.

“They are basically folded into the adult culture. There’s no such thing anymore as a child when parents are teenagers, and not married, and not able to set up a stable home; when you have a culture that peddles clothing for babies that a two-year-old girl is either dressed like a hooker or a male,” Min. Muhammad said.

‘Looking back at some recent sessions held by women of the Caucus on Black Women and Girls, one issue revealed the assault on Black girls self-esteem.’

“You don’t see our little girls in dresses and ribbons in their hair. We’re putting extensions and weaves in the heads of toddlers. We’re not teaching them how to speak. We’re teaching them how to curse. We are teaching them how to shake their behind, and in the absence of stable Black male authority, we’re exposing young girls and young children to male predators,” she continued.

She underscored that the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has taught and really chided Black women about their lack of love for their daughters and their selfishness that in many instances leaves them exposed to men they’re dating and allowed in their environment, without regard to the impact on their children.

“I don’t want to seem oblivious to the need for corrective measures in the interim, but I just want to stress we’ve really come to that point where we’re standing on the edge of the cliff, and the only practical and real solution to this is to begin in earnest the process of breaking from our slave-masters’ children, because all of this is rooted in our classification in the White man’s society as commodities, as property,” Min. Muhammad stated.

She illuminated the fact that Blacks live in an environment that is controlled by a people that view them as property and deprive them of the rudimentary requirements for survival.

“We do not live. We exist,” Min. Muhammad said. Step one would be to push harder on compliance with Min. Farrakhan’s directive to make Black neighborhoods safe and decent places to live, she said.

“When he says safe and decent, that’s on a multitude of levels. Our first thought might police who come in at will and gun down our children, and then make sure that our children have guns and kill each other, but he said safe and decent,” she reiterated.

For instance, she said, the whole problem of the predatory male starts right in the household, but Blacks can correct that almost instantly by Black women engaging in a cease and desist. “Stop letting strange men come into your home, or your house, or your apartment, or your room, or the box you live in … wherever you are, your children are first. Your divine role first and foremost is mother, above everything,” Min. Muhammad said.

Another solution is for Black women to cover themselves and return to modesty, Min. Muhammad stated. She said she could understand 15- and 20-year-olds, because their hormones are raging, but not 40-, 50-, 60-year-olds.

“What is wrong with you? This is us! This is not White people. This is not even the Black man. This is us, and a nation can rise no higher than its woman,” Min. Muhammad said.

“Put some clothes on. Stop cursing. Stop talking and screaming where you sound like you’re in a bullhorn … . We have power! The woman has power to turn this around.”

Civil rights attorney Barbara Arnwine of the Transformative Justice Coalition told The Final Call she feels the sentiments documented in the report stem from a substantial neglect of issues affecting Black women and girls in the country.

“Even under the Obama administration, his program for Brothers Keeper was all focused on Black boys and men, and unfortunately, many of us said that one of the consequences of this was that it was neglecting the needs and the realities of Black girls, and that Black girls actually had substantial issues that they confront in our society,” Atty. Arnwine said.

Advocates warned there needed to be a more balanced approach, because Black girls and boys grow up in the same households and experience the same problems, she said.

“Well, we’re not surprised that the images that we have been able to document about Black boys now are being reflected about Black girls. … The only surprise is that we have not fought hard enough politically or in our social policy work or in our public education work to try to confront and dispute and refute these tropes about Black girls and Black women,” she said.

“I think this is an unfortunate, logical outcome of this scholarly and political neglect,” Atty. Arnwine stated.

She said there are some truths Black women need to address regarding their role in how Black girls are being viewed.

Looking back at some recent sessions held by women of the Caucus on Black Women and Girls, one issue revealed the assault on Black girls self-esteem, Atty. Arnwine said. They talked about being portrayed so poorly about their hair, their physiology, their look, their noses, their lips, their eyes, she recalled.

“They’re told that they’re not the standard of beauty, and rappers and all kinds of other people reinforce those images, so there’s this problem, period, that goes even beyond perceiving our girls as not innocent, or adult, etc.”

Black girls’ communities fall short when it comes to valuing and affirming them and loving them as valuable members of their communities and society, Atty. Arnwine said, and that’s a huge miss.

“Parents do it inadvertently. Schools do it all the time. They (Black girls) complain bitterly about their schooling. They complain bitterly about rape and sexual assault, to just everything, so the irony of this report is while people are viewing our girls negatively as not innocent, we are missing the fact that in reality, their innocence is being exploited all the time,” Atty. Arnwine said.