Saturday, July 1, 2017

Quit Being So FAST, Gal!: The Adultification of African American Girls in K12 Education




As an adult, I can still hear my late paternal grandmother saying, “Quit being so fast, Gal!”  When she said “Gal,” I knew that I was in for an earful.  I was not fast in the stereotypical way - - - liking boys, thinking that I was “grown.”  I was more advanced in the sense that I put the letter “S” in the word, sassy. I was smart and opinionated.  I kept both paternal grandparents on their toes.  Back in 1979, not too many five-year olds would ask their grandfather, who was born in 1912, to quit using the word, “nigger” to refer to African Americans.  Corrections, like the one mentioned, are what typically led to the “fast” comment.

 Recently, I read Taryn Finley’s article, “ Black Girls Are Viewed As Less Innocent Than White Girls Starting At Age Five:  Study” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/young-black-girls-less-innocent-study_us_59526e51e4b05c37bb7982d2), and I immediately thought back to the age when my grandmother began admonishing me for being “fast.”  The age of five would probably be correct.  In her article, Ms. Finley discusses Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality’s study, “Girlhood Interrupted:  The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood.”  The report notes that “adults believe that black girls seem older than white girls of the same age, and think that black girls need less nurturing, protection, support, and comfort than white girls.” The study also believes that black girls are more independent and aware about adult topics (i.e. intimacy) than their white female peers. 

On June 27, 2017, Rebecca Epstein and Jamilia J. Blake, the authors of the report, held a press conference where they mentioned how adults, especially Caucasians, discipline black girls.  Dr. Blake stated that “black girls are being held to the same stereotypes we have of black women. She also mentioned that the “stereotypes of black women are being mapped onto black girls.”   Blake suggested that this is why African American girls are unfairly disciplined at school and beyond. Finley reminds her readers that although black girls “make up less than 16 percent of the female school population,” yet they “account for 28 percent of referrals to law enforcement and 37 percent of arrests.” 

I wholeheartedly concur with Ms. Epstein’s and Dr. Blake’s findings.  From 2007-2014, I taught high school in Phoenix, Arizona.  I watched how black female students were disciplined and/or treated, and it was appalling.  What many white teachers fail to realize is that black girls need to be nurtured, because oftentimes, adulthood has been pressed on them due to situations beyond their control – single parent who works a lot of hours; drug addicted parents; poverty, etc..  Although her white female peers may be dealing with similar issues, someone is still present in her life (relative, neighbor, and/or teacher) to try and keep “Heather” age-appropriate.  In short, despite her hardships, she typically has a “buffer” whereas many black girls oftentimes do not receive one. 

I have witnessed white female teachers go toe-to-toe with a black female student as if she was an adult. The break room would be the area where one white female teacher, in particular, would make inappropriate comments about African American female students.  Eventually, I was not surprised, because this is the same instructor, who stopped me and said, “Cicely, do you engage in oral sex?  I know that many black women don’t give head.”  A bell went off in my head – If she is sexualizing me, then what is her perception of her black female students?”  For their research, the social scientists interviewed a black female student.  The young girl stated that one of her teachers said to her, “You’re just like an angry black woman.”  From my perspective, this is how my former colleague classified many of her African American sophomore students.

Sigh.

If you faithfully follow my blog, then you know that I am not one to simply bash white folk.  I definitely devote an equal amount of time writing about my frustration regarding my own people.  While teaching high school, I was especially disgusted by how African American teachers failed to adequately protect black female students. Indeed, I was surrounded by prime examples of how affirmative action policies could go absolutely wrong.  Simply because you are black does not mean that you should be an educator let alone an administrator.  The same goes for paraprofessionals and security staff members.  From my personal teaching experiences, self-hatred is real, especially amongst African American certified and classified employees.  I will never forget how an African American male security guard said, “You see that girl right there with her momma?  She’s just like her momma.  Her momma is known for giving pussy out of both drawer legs out here in South Phoenix.  The daughter does the same thing.”  Since he has knowledge of this alleged promiscuity, especially since the girl was known to engage in sex with adult men, the question is, “Did the security guard report his concerns to her counselor?” I witnessed how African American female teachers would join white teachers and make fun of black girls.  Often, I would give one teacher this look that said, “Heffa, you DO know that you are black, and that you graduated from this high school 500 years ago? You DO know that you have a black daughter, and if this teacher feels this way about a black girl, how do you think that she feels about YOU?  Yet, you are too ignorant to realize this, and you are too busy trying to run up and hug all on her babies.”

Another sigh. 

I saw other examples of how educators claimed to have mentoring programs for African American girls, especially those who came from low-income families. I will never forget how a black female educator saw one African American girl, who was a size zero on a good day, walk past us in a pair of cute leggings.  The woman cleared her throat and said, “You see her in those leggings?  Help our people.”  Sadly, these girls went to these women, and viewed them as role models, and they merely used the opportunities to cushion their resume and provide them “material” for their “student-bashing comedy hour.”

Basically, these faculty members were sending African American female students the following message:  We see what our Caucasian peers are doing to you, and rather than provide you with a safe place to raise your voice and share your concern, we are joining them in their humiliation and adultification of you.” 

Questions to consider:

1.     Who is more to blame for the adultification of African American K12 female students – Caucasian or black educators? 
2.     What is “threatening” about black girls? 
3.     Do white female students notice the difference in how they are treated versus blacke female students? If so, what is their response?






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