The Adultification and Hyper-sexualization of Black Girls

Content Warning: Sexual Assault

I remember being 12 years old and walking into my local 7-11 eager to buy candy with my white friend. We walked through all the aisles until we saw the candy I liked. I opened my wallet to make sure I had enough money, and so did my friend. As we were walking back to the register, I was stopped and told that I had been stealing. My bag was ripped off of me and was thoroughly checked because “they had proof I stole on camera” I didn’t take anything and when they realized that, they let me go. 

Although this may be seen as just an act of precaution or a simple misunderstanding, it was the first time I realized that no matter how young I am, I will always be seen as less innocent. 

I had another experience this year when I went to a gas station near my school with friends where I was again, the only Black person there. As I went to check out, the worker told me to open my pockets because he thought I stole something. He later apologized and I never went back there again. 

After speaking with my other black friends and hearing about their similar experiences, I became very interested in the topic of the adultification of young Black girls and how we have had our childhoods taken away from us.

According to a study by the Georgetown Law Center, Black girls aged 5-14 are seen to be less innocent and more adult-like compared to young white girls. (Girlhood Interrupted) Professor Michael J. Dumas from U.C. Berkeley believes that this idea originated during slavery when Black kids were not seen as worthy enough to get to play and if they did have normal child-like behaviors, they were severely punished.

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Adultification also leads to the hypersexualization of young Black girls because we are seen as “too grown.” When society hypersexualizes us, it feeds into rape culture. According to the American Psychological Association, “One in four Black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18.” Young Black girls are the forgotten survivors of sexual assault and are disproportionally targeted due to the idea that we know more about sex and are more adult-like. 

Studies prove that when black women report crimes of sexual assault, they are less likely to be believed compared to white women, and when black men confess to raping black women, they face less jail time compared to white women. Carolyn West and Kalimah Johnson, authors of “Sexual Violence in the Lives of African American Women.” carry on by saying,“black sexual assault survivors are also at greater risk of having PTSD, depression, and abusing drugs later on in their lives.”

The article continues by saying “More than 20 percent of Black women are raped during their lifetimes — a higher share than among women overall. The hypersexualization of young Black girls takes away our chance of having a normal childhood and pushes a false narrative.

The adultification of young Black girls is also very prevalent in social media and the entertainment industry. Netflix has recently been under a lot of fire for their new movie premiering called Cuties about a young Black girl joining a twerking dance team.

(Netflix has now changed the cover and description)

What made people upset was the cover of the movie where the 11-year-olds are posing in very revealing clothes. It sickens me how when one of the very first young dark skin girls to be featured as a lead in a Netflix movie, she was over-sexualized and love twerking, a common stereotype made against Black women.

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Netflix’s description and cover of the film further pushes the idea that young Black girls are more mature for their age.

The adultification and hypersexualization of young Black girls is a deeply rooted issue in our society that will take years to fix. However, by discussing these topics, we can further educate others and get closer to letting Black girls have a childhood where they can just be kids.

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