Critical Documentary Sheds Light on the Adultification of Black Girls in Pittsburgh

On November 19, Pittsburgh’s WQED aired Childhood Lost: The Adultification of African American Girls, an imperative documentary addressing the phenomenon of adultification of black girls and its negative implications. The film, written and produced by Minette Seate, is part of a critical initiative by local Pittsburgh community organizations to address this phenomenon plaguing black girls across the country—but more alarmingly, the consequential racial disparities are impacting black girls more in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

Adultification is the “perception that African American girls are more adult, more aggressive, more sexually aware and less in need of support and care than girls of the same age, but of different race,” according to the initiative’s WQED page. A groundbreaking study published by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood, brought to light these alarming statistics for the first time in 2017. The report found that adults view black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers, especially in the age range of 5–14.

Data in the report also showed that compared to white girls of the same age, survey participants perceive that:

  • Black girls need less nurturing.
  • Black girls need less protection.  
  • Black girls need to be supported less.
  • Black girls need to be comforted less.
  • Black girls are more independent.
  • Black girls know more about adult topics. 
  • Black girls know more about sex.

Growing research continues to link this adultification of black girls to the racial inequities they continue to face within the juvenile justice and education systems in the United States. In the documentary, Seate highlights this link to the disproportionate rates of classroom discipline, school suspension and referrals to the juvenile justice system for black girls—and the referral rate of black girls is much higher in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County than school districts in 95 percent of similar cities.

The documentary premiere was followed by a Zoom panel discussion featuring local Pittsburgh leaders who were featured in the film. Moderated by Amachi Pittsburgh’s Executive Director, Anna Hollis, leaders discussed ways in which the public can act immediately to address this issue in schools, communities, juvenile justice, etc. Dr. Kathi Elliot, CEO of Gwen’s Girls convener Black Girls Equity Alliance, explained, “This is an opportunity for us to have a conversation about how our individual practices and behaviors, and how our systems contribute to this ongoing, perpetual viewing of girls—particularly black girls—as being older than they are, and not needing the nurturing that we all as human beings need.”

In order to raise awareness about this troubling issue as part of the community initiative, WQED is partnering with local community leaders including Amachi Pittsburgh, Gwen’s Girls, Fashion Africana and more. This profound documentary can be viewed on the initiative’s website along with other information pertinent to raising public awareness on the adultification bias and what can be done to combat it.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of A Second Chance, Inc.

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