Researchers and advocates have noted for years that black Americans face a higher risk of imprisonment than white Americans and constitute almost 1 million of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States. One reason for the disparity may be racial bias. Now, a study from Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality reveals black girls may face such bias while still in kindergarten. According to the findings, black girls are perceived as less innocent than white girls as early as age 5.
“These are preschool girls who are being viewed as needing less protection and needing less nurturing than their white counterparts,” says Rebecca Epstein, lead author and executive director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality at the Georgetown University Law Center. “At that age, I find that shocking.”
The most recent findings build on past studies that surveyed respondents’ perceptions of black boys. Though viewed similarly to their white peers through the age of 9, black boys 10 and older are viewed as less innocent than white boys their age. In this case, “innocence” is used as a proxy for children’s lack of worldliness and need for protection. People are also likely to believe black boys are older than they are. When shown pictures of black, white, and Latino boys alongside descriptions of felonies, study participants overestimated black boys’ ages by an average of 4.5 years — the type of guess that would render a 13.5-year-old a legal adult. This effect was unique to black boys; people guessed Latino and white boys’ ages with similar accuracy. keep reading