In Part 1, we discussed the process by which Black girl innocence is stolen. Here are some personal and practical ways to give it back:
Crown Them Children
Black children are children. Black girl children are children. And if that concept strikes you as strange, if it makes you uncomfortable, you have quite likely been rocked to sleep by one of white supremacy’s most perverse campaigns to prove journalist and child advocate Stacey Patton’s theory of, “there’s no such thing as a black child.”
In a For Harriet article titled “Killing Black Children is an American Tradition,” Patton explains how and why Black children have been denied the privileges and protections of childhood. It should come as no surprise that the reasons have everything to do with ensuring that white supremacy thrives. Black children have been historically and are routinely stripped of their right to the sacred space of childhood “because the very notion of Black childhood continues to be tied up in the definition of Black people as property, as subhuman, and inherently dangerous.”
Crown Black girl children children. Assume their dependency. Assume their vulnerability. Assume their ignorance. Assume their preciousness. And operate out of those assumptions. How you respond to a toddler having a temper tantrum versus how you respond to an incompetent president having one should be wildly different. Your answer to Black girl thought, behavior and presence should not resemble your answer to an inept, fully grown adult.
Replace the Simplistic View You Have of Black Girls with the Nuanced One They Deserve
Black girls are not this homogeneous group with identical lived experiences and ways of being, but stereotypes (quite often formulated without any firsthand knowledge of a group) frame their existence for us before we exchange so much as two words with them. And even as they disprove our assumptions again and again, we dismiss distinctive, important characteristics (characteristics that could teach us how to love them better, were we listening) in order to honor the harmful Black girl stories taking up all the room in our heads. We feed and perpetuate perspectives that imprison Black girls—literally and figuratively—when we fail to see them as they are. Never mind the dangerously seductive nature of negative stereotypes. Author J. Dan Rothwell notes, “Reduced to an abstraction, victims of stereotyping must struggle to define themselves or be content to accept roles others have carved out for them.” It is our responsibility to refuse to play any part in carving out a destructive path for a child’s life.
May this Ntozake Shange quote inspire you to do the inner work necessary to see Black girls: “…get into yourself and find out what’s holding you back. You can create whole worlds, girl.” Go there. Get inside your own heart and mind. Do the math. Figure out just what it is in your history, your biography, your experience that prevents you from seeing Black girls in the nuanced, particular, divine way they deserve to be seen. Your humanity depends on it.
Stop Asking Black Girls to Present in a Way that Makes You Feel Comfortable
And I repeat: Black girls are not this homogeneous group with identical lived experiences and ways of being. They are raised in a myriad of home environments, experiencing a myriad of subcultures (that quite often directly contradict the perceived, dominate Black culture). But in the case that you encounter a Black girl who acts like she came right out of your colonized imagination, who does not mince her words, who challenges you with her thinking, who stands up for herself with the whole depth of her voice, name her appropriately: LEADER. Assign her fittingly: she should be running things. In other words, vote her into the National Honor Society based on her qualifications, not based on the emotions she stirs up in you.
Resist Adultification Through Your Tone of Voice and Language Choices
Keeping in mind that Black girls are responded to more punitively, how does this manifest in your language choices? In the tone of your voice? Dr. Monique W. Morris notes “that our society ‘regularly respond[s] to Black girls as if they are fully developed adults.’” This response looks and feels like a cop slamming a hundred-pound child to the ground, but it also looks like “sit down and shut up” words. You know the ones. When they’re in school hallways: “What are you doing out here?” All the way on up to a popular R. Kelly mantra: “Stupid Black bitch got what she deserved.” Adultification sounds like contempt. It sounds like condescension and denigration. If you close your eyes, you feel the hatred bounced off the letters in your bones, even.
your words. Make language choices that hold humanity in their syllables. Use a
tone of voice that reflects love and builds bridges. In other words, watch your
mouth ‘round Black girls.
 Patton, Stacey. “Killing Black Children Is an American Tradition.” For Harriet | Celebrating the Fullness of Black Womanhood, 18 Feb. 2014, www.forharriet.com/2014/02/killing-black-children-is-american.html.
 Rothwell, Dan J. “Stereotyping: Homogenizing People.” Writing, Reading & Research, Ed. Veit Richard, et al. Boston: Wadsworth, 2010. 188-189. Print.
 Shange, Ntozake. Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo. St. Martin’s Press, 1982. 79. Print.
 Epstein, Rebecca, et al. Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood. Georgetown Law, Center on Poverty and Inequality, 2017, pp. 4, Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood.