Sophia Lusala, a junior at Iowa City High School, said she often felt the effects of the “loud, sassy, Black girl” stereotype. In math class last year, when a teacher said he would not review a certain lesson, she asked why — and landed in the hallway “to calm down,” she said.
“We’ve been in school growing our minds so that we can challenge things,” she said. “But when we do so, we’re punished for it.”
Black girls are viewed by educators as more suspicious, mature, provocative and aggressive than their white peers, said Rebecca Epstein, the executive director of the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality and an author of the first robust study of “adultification bias” against Black girls. The study found that Black girls as young as 5 were viewed by adults as less innocent than white girls.
“Developmentally, Black girls and white girls are the same — regardless of any differences in outward presentation,” she said.
The Binghamton lawsuit, filed last year by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Morrison & Foerster law firm against the Binghamton City School District, will test whether such studies can translate into legal recourse.
The organization argued that administrators “were motivated by false race- and gender-based stereotypes in directing, facilitating and conducting these unlawful searches” on Ms. McKinstry’s daughter and three other 12-year-old Black girls. The school nurse who conducted the searches called the girls “loud, disrespectful and having ‘attitudes,’” the complaint said. It accused the nurse of commenting that the breasts of one of the girls were unusually large for her age and of invoking the “stereotypical view of Black girls as older and more mature than white girls of similar age.”
“This case is about the criminalization of Black childhood,” said Cara McClellan, a lawyer who is representing the girls.