MOSES: Oversexualization of Black girls, women must stop

Georgetown+University+conducted+a+study+focusing+on+adults%27+perception+of+Black+girls.+This+graph+showcases+that+Black+girls+at+each+of+the+four+age+ranges+experience+adultification+at+higher+rates+than+white+girls+in+the+same+age+ranges.+Graphic+via+Center+on+Poverty+and+Inequality+2017+study

Georgetown University conducted a study focusing on adults’ perception of Black girls. This graph showcases that Black girls at each of the four age ranges experience adultification at higher rates than white girls in the same age ranges. Graphic via Center on Poverty and Inequality 2017 study

Black girls are being deprived of their innocence due to the oversexualization of their existence.

Sexualization is the practice of excessively sexualizing individuals, an act that Black girls and women are heavily subjected to This deprivation of innocence has a deep-rooted history in the United States.

When Europeans traveled to Africa during the 15th century the minimal amounts of clothing African women wore, appropriate for the hot climate there,  and the seemingly suggestive tribal dances led Europeans to believe African women were sexually lewd.

During the 18th century, William Smith, an English colonist, wrote that African women were “hot constitution’ d Ladies” who “are continually contriving stratagems how to gain a lover.” Writings such as these led to the stereotype of Black women as sexually promiscuous. Later, these notions were used to justify enslaving Africans.

During the slave-era in the U.S., Black women were referred to as Jezebels. The term was used to suggest that Black women were innately promiscuous and sexually predatory. It was conceived that Black women had an insatiable appetite for sex, which slave owners used as a justification for rape.

The views that Black women are innately promiscuous and sexually predatory is exactly why Black girls do not have never had the liberty of being children. Instead, they are forced to live in a world that turns their innocence into a sex symbol.

As children, Black girls worry about the clothes they wear, how much skin is showing and what their actions might suggest. Black girls grow into Black women who face similar struggles. As adults, Black women have to be conscious of how they dress in professional settings and how others may perceive their bodies. The perception of Black bodies, like the notion that it Black women’s bodies are inappropriate could result in workplace harassment and even being fired.

A 2017 Georgetown University study found that Black girls as young as 5 years old are already seen as less innocent and in need of less support than white girls of the same age. This presumption leads teachers and other authority figures to treat Black girls as older than they actually are and more harshly than white female students, with the disparity being particularly wide for 10-to 14-year-olds. This research only confirms what was previously known by members of the Black community which is that Black girls are viewed as more belligerent, violent and aggressive than their white peers.

A  2012 African American Policy Forum report explained that when it comes to school discipline, Black girls are punished more severely because they are viewed as more aggressive and less feminine than white girls. The failure to address this narrative is why more and more Black girls are being pushed into the school-to-prison pipeline, which means the policies and practices that are directly and indirectly pushing students of color out of school and on a pathway to prison.

Contributing to the false narratives surrounding Black girls is mainstream media. Black girls and women are increasingly objectified and demoralized, which has affected their mental health. Mainstream media has influenced the body images in the Black community and has created a perception of how the Black female body should appear.

The adultification of Black girls is not just about the objectification of Black girls. This idea that Black children are in less need of protection exacerbates the ongoing violence against Black children in America.

This is the reason Black girls like Donesha Gowdy, an 11-year-old girl accused of shoplifting, are tased before they are talked to. It’s also the reason why a 14-year-old Black girl can be punched and violently arrested by officers in Coral Springs, Florida without real consequences: Because being a Black girl in America equals violent, belligerent and ill-mannered.

This is why it is important for all of us, and especially teachers and other authority figures, to recognize our biases against Black girls. There is no one person that is innately promiscuous or sexually lewd. Black girls are not belligerent, violent, or more aggressive than anyone. Black girls are an unprotected group of people who deserve better, who deserve their innocence.

This story was written by Hope Moses. She can be reached at hope.moses@marquette.edu