Kaia Rolle was listening to a school employee read her a story when two officers came into the room to arrest her. “What are those for?” the 6-year-old girl asked the police officer who pulled out zip ties that he would soon fasten around her wrists.
The Orlando Sentinel on February 24, 2020 quotes Kaia pleading, “Please, give me a second chance.” Kaia was escorted to the police car. The scene was captured on a body camera, and the footage offered a glimpse into what many young Black girls in America have long experienced.
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. The childhood of Black girls looks different when compared to other kids; therefore, it is essential that we define and understand exactly what a Black girl’s childhood is in the first place.
Today, we’ll discuss three main themes that define a Black girl’s childhood: aesthetic insinuations, adultification, and discriminatory barriers in education, followed by an implication for each theme because even though Kaia’s case seems extreme, her experience is as common in every Black girls’ childhood as Sunday morning cartoons.
Black girls should not have to worry about the clothes they wear because it might invite unwanted attention. Black girls deserve our protection and it’s time we give it to them, so let’s examine the theme of aesthetic insinuations and its implication.
“We live in a country that loves Black culture on white bodies but not on the bodies of those who created these looks,” said the New York Times. For example, Black girls are reprimanded for clothing and hairstyles deemed trendy when sported by white girls. The Baltimore Sun explains, some schools have gone as far as banning afrocentric hairstyles like braids, twists and dreadlocks. This discrimination of natural hairstyles is detrimental to the self-image of Black girls.
Dancers from the Miami Northwestern Senior High wore costumes that included a long-sleeve cutout leotard and black boots. The dance instructor, Traci Young-Byron, questioned if the girls were being called “strippers in training” only because they were Black, comparing them to young white dancers dressed in similar attire. Simply put, the costumes were never the issue.
Clothing must not be the issue creating a marginalized viewpoint that is causing young Black girls to be seen as older. So, what is?
A Black mother informs the Washington Post it started when Chloe was a toddler, and people commented on her “curves.” She combated that by putting her in one-piece jumpers and shorts at the beach. Meanwhile, her white niece wore two-pieces and no one talked about her body.
Likewise, the Huff Post reveals that one Black girl described an encounter with a police officer who didn’t believe she was 15. He insisted she was too old not to carry a driver’s license. The color of her skin was enough proof for the officer that she was lying about her age. In fact, in both situations it seemed the color of the girls’ skin was the deciding factor.
Any Black mother could’ve told the researchers that, from the time they are talking and walking, little Black girls are deemed “fast,” a word synonymous with promiscuity, leading us to examine the theme of adultification and its implication.
First, the history behind the over-sexualization of Black women can be traced back to the 1800’s when Sarah Baartman’s buttocks were paraded across Europe to provide entertainment for Caucasian Europeans. Even before mainstream media, Black women were tantalized while Black girls watched and endured their own adultification.
A Georgetown University report found, Black girls, particularly ages 5 to 14, are seen as more sexually mature than white girls. This prejudiced view leads to Black girls becoming more victims of sexual violence and disbelief of their trauma. The Women’s Media Center reports African American girls comprise over 40% of domestic sex trafficking victims in the U.S.
While running from danger, Black girls encounter sexual predators capitalizing on the lack of collective outrage expressed when they disappear, causing Black girls to go missing and stay missing.
Although, it is empowering for Black women to reclaim their repressed sexuality. When it is being done through tools that men use to oppress women’s sexuality, it can be a double-edged sword. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out the dangerous over-sexualization views of Black women, girls and femmes that exist in the classroom to the boardroom along with in the African-American community.
While songs by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion can be empowering, some Black girls might believe this is the only way to take ownership over their bodies that are adultified, forcing Black girls to get rid of their childhood even more.
Teachers, and even parents, 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.
First, discriminatory barriers in education limit educational opportunities for Black girls. Black girls are suspended at a rate five times that of white girls, increasing their chances of incarceration. This disparity is not based solely on differences in behavior, even in preschool we see these dangerous racist reactions hurting Black girls.
The New York Times on April 17, 2020 reports, at the ripe age of three, one Black girl was labeled intentionally disruptive by her preschool teacher who tried to film her and prove to her mother she was a problem — she never got the footage, but accused her of pretending to behave at the sight of the camera.
The Independent on October 24, 2019 reveals a police officer pushed a Black 11-year-old girl into a wall and violently forced her to the ground after she accidentally brushed past a teacher. Video shows the school resource officer roughly handling the student — and falsely accusing her of assault. As a result, the Black girl experienced a minor concussion along with scrapes and bruises. The school-to-prison pipeline is simply another challenge Black girls face since they are more likely to face harsh discipline in schools and be exposed to police violence.
Black girls do not have a childhood even when at school. The National Women’s Law Center’s report concludes, Black girls are predominantly penalized under dress code rules echoing the anecdotal evidence that every part of Black girlhood — from their hair to their bodies and clothing — has the potential to be penalized. The report explains punishments send dangerous messages to the community: how a Black girl looks is more important than what she thinks.
From the clothing she is critiqued for wearing, the adultification of her body, to the ultimate denial of an uninhibited education, a Black girl’s childhood is filled with trauma no adult should even endure.
Simply put, defining a Black girl’s childhood is actually defining what she does not have.
To this day, Black girls are suffocated by societal bias that seeps into their households, schools, jobs, and other aspects of their life. This cycle will continue to deprive Black girls of their childhood unless society is informed about the injustices they encounter. It’s time we let Black girls be what they have always been: children.