Some things should go without saying — “children must be protected at all costs” seems like it would be one of them. However, as a new study by Georgetown Law reminds us, our babies aren’t all granted the same type of innocence.
“Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood” makes the case that Black girls are seen as less innocent than white girls by adults of all colors. This is a truth Black women and girls have contended with for decades.
When Black girls go missing at devastating rates, as has been the case in D.C. and the Bronx, or suffer mistreatment in the classroom, the public outcry rarely manages to match the severity of the problem. CASSIUS reached out to several experts whose advocacy and scholarship focuses on Black girlhood to talk about the vulnerability of this underserved group:
Check out their insights below.
Jenn Jackson, Managing Editor of the Black Youth Project
“When it comes to trans and cis Black girls and vulnerability and protection, I find that far too few mainstream research organizations and educational institutions make a concerted effort to shift the focus to the community itself. Instead, they focus on aggregate-level indicators like crime rates, neighborhoods, cities, schools, employers, and other entities that don’t truly get to the heart of the conditions trans and cis Black girls face every single day. This is especially serious for trans Black girls who have a life expectancy of only 35 years old. We saw this just this week with the murder of Ava Le’Ray Barrin, who was only 17 years old. I have also found in my research that trans and cis Black girls and women are of the most politically active groups. They also are integral actors in community preservation, social movements, and neighborhood advocacy. Fundamentally, Black trans and cis girls are the most likely to be underprotected by the State, political leadership, and even Black men in their communities yet they continue to risk their safety for their people. We also have to acknowledge our own blindspots and innate privileges which too often limit our own research and advocacy for trans and cis Black girls and women. In terms of public understanding, I think it is critically important that we— the collective “we” which includes all Black Diasporic people— focus first on making sure that we understand the conditions facing cis and trans Black girls. We have to start with us.”
Nakisha Lewis, Founding Member of Black Lives Matter NYC
“Black girls are often hypersexualized which places them at significant risk for sexual assault. Black girls go missing at greater rates than their white peers and we know that they are sold into sex trafficking and other forms of exploitation and harm. Black girls also face increasing incarceration risk. They are harshly disciplined for juvenile incidents in school and overly pushed out leaving them vulnerable to the lures of the street. It is important that advocates continue to break the silence about the harmful reality that Black girls live and lift up their resilience and ability to thrive under such conditions. We need both a cultural and systemic shift to occur in order for the world to be a safe place for Black girls. We begin by coming together as a community in defense of Black girlhood. It has always been that the public will of the people to demand something yields the political will to enact or dissolve policies that can make it happen. As such, we need a critical mass to declare that Black girls matter in order to move a society to action in keeping them safe”
Joanne Smith, Founder and Executive Director of Girls for Gender Equity (GGE)
“My experience working with Black girls has led me to witness that too often, Black girls are seen and treated as disposable. Our girls are expected to endure sexual and physical violence; institutional injustices in school; foster care and juvenile system; invisibility in policies, practices and resource allocation, while remaining silent. Because the minute they speak up and advocate for themselves they are deemed unruly, loud, aggressive and deserving of the conditions that leave them vulnerable in the first place. No other group in our nation is expected to endure the trauma that cis and trans black girls live through daily.”
Andrea Ritchie, Researcher and Author of No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color
“The perceptions of Black girls documented in this report are precisely those that drive high rates of school-based arrests, as well as targeting of Black girls in the context of gang and “broken windows” policing. They are also the perceptions that drive rampant police violence against Black girls— leading police to handcuff girls as young as five like Jaisha Aikins, violently arrest girls as young as 12 like Dymond Milburn on the presumption that they are engaged in prostitution, see a 14 year old in a bikini like Dajerria Becton as a threat who must be pinned to the ground, and casually flip over a chair to drag a 15-year-old Black girl who has just lost her mother out of a classroom during the #AssaultatSpringValleyHigh.”
Aimee Meredith Cox, Associate Professor of Anthropology and African American Studies at Yale University and author of Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship
“Black girls are not allowed to assume the guise of a female fragility in need of protection that is associated with white girl and womanhood. From my own research with and on young Black women, I can say that there is a code of ethics, you could even call it a Black girl code of ethics and care that requires Black girls to demonstrate a level of justice in action and fearless accountability to other people even as they themselves are time and time again deprived of these same things. We need to not only name, but seek and destroy institutional practices and policies built on anti-Blackness and a deep hatred of what is perceived to be femme, female, or outside of a normative masculinity or the performance of an acceptable and legible femininity. It is dangerous to assume Black girls can only refer to girls living in urban centers, cisgender girls, or girls of a certain economic status. The flattening of the category is problematic. However, at the same time, we have to acknowledge that some Black girls are inevitably more vulnerable than others.”