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Implicit Bias on Black Youth: Manifestation of Racial Inequality in America


By: Taylor Agbon 




In studying how the educational system and subsequently society affect the development of young black minds, I discovered that black adolescents are not always given an opportunity to reach their full potential. With the beliefs held by adults in the United States, the need for protection, support, comfort, and nurturing seems to be less necessary for Black children in the educational system. White America's perception of Black children affects their future lives through the conditions of adultification. Adultification, wherein officials of law enforcement, educators, or even parents perceive Black children, specifically Black girls, as less innocent and more adult-like than their white counterparts. By being placed in the category of adultness, you lose sight of the considerably crucial function of shifting race-based narratives that impact the life outcomes of children. Thus, the concept of adultification bias impacts young Black children and investigates how sexism and racism associate to shape encounters in education including how they are treated by administrators and school-held policies, criminal justice, and social connections that lead to victimization of sexual and nonsexual encounters.   


This phenomenon of viewing Black children as miniature adults means they are disciplined more often, suspended more frequently, and punished more harshly, including more likely to be referred to the police and arrested. Adults' anticipating the life of young Black children by placing doubt and risk onto them is an especially malevolent sign of racial inequality in America. Ordinary youth behaviors such as tantrums and defiance become a criminal threat when a Black child does them. As an effect, this age compression increasingly denies Black children and robs them of the freedom of just being kids.



Black girls are perceived as “sassy,” or accused of having issues with their attitude, attitudes often embedded in “angry black women” myths, beginning in adolescence. With personal experiences being publicized by the New York Times Newspaper it is seen that parents expect Black girls to surpass age-appropriate standards of obligation at home or believe that after emotionally distressing incidents, they do not need to be comforted. Studies done by the National Center for Biotechnology Information have indicated that the acceptance of early adult roles or early adultification consists in the perception of adult-like characteristics and obligations by an adolescent or juvenile, most of whom are encountered inside the household. Such functions involve providing for younger siblings or older relatives as a primary caregiver or supplying a single caregiver with vital emotional and instrumental assistance. In the duties parents delegate to Black children, adultification surfaces within the household before it is seen in societal situations. 



As illustrated in the study, Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood, researchers discovered that at nearly all phases of adolescence, starting at the age of five, peaking throughout the ages of ten and fourteen, and progressing during the ages of fifteen and nineteen, adults perceive Black girls as increasingly more adult like than their white peers. The most important variations in adult expectations with respect to girls in childhood and early adolescence were observed across the four age range studies with differences continuing to be smaller in the young adult category. Adults, therefore, tend to put different perceptions and standards on Black girls that stereotype them as older, especially in childhood and early adolescence, which are crucial times for a child's creation of a healthy identity and outlook on life. 


In fact, research reveals that Black girls are exposed on a regular basis from the schoolyard to the classroom, the streets to the criminal justice system, not only to myths, prejudices, and biases based on their color but also, most critically, on their gender. Black girls are often disciplined more harshly in school when it comes to educational discipline because they are perceived as more aggressive and far less delicate than their white female peers. As young Black girls have the unwelcoming risk of being identified as deceptive and purposely disruptive, discipline inside the educational experience can be marked as early as pre-school. An ongoing report from the Georgetown Law Center on ‘Poverty and Inequality' has researched that adults are viewing young black girls to be more “adult like” and less innocent than their white counterparts by the age of five. With the research done by the New York Times, a report has been done by the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection seeing that, although only twenty percent of preschoolers were Black somehow Black girls made up fifty-four percent of female preschool children with one or more suspensions. 


Equally important,  Federal civil rights records also show that as Black girls age they are five or six times more likely than white girls to be suspended from their schools. According to the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, Black girls are a comparatively small proportion of the total student population, but they accounted for more than forty percent of girls with numerous out-of-school suspensions in the 2011-2012 school year. This assumption causes teachers and other sources of authority to perceive Black girls as older than they really are and thus treated more unfairly than their white female peers, which then leads to Black girls being wrongfully categorized by society due to the faults of the education system. This systemic inability to resolve this issue means that the school-to-prison system is targeting more Black children.  


Likewise, as their opposite, young black boys also have the unwanted potential of being subject to adultification bias. Within the school system, adultification is encountered by both girls and boys, but it can occur differently depending on the individual's gender. With the research done by USC and the Christian Education Journal: Research on Educational Ministry, it is seen that countrywide Black boys have to experience educational conditions that perpetuate the stereotype of their perceived academic insufficiency and mark their actions and activities as problematic in the classroom. Fueled by historical racial and sexist assumptions, deficit-based myths from preschool to college argue that Black boys and young men are deviant, detached, aggressive, undisciplined, ignorant, problematic, confrontational, intimidating, and challenging to educate. 


Furthermore, in The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois noted that for America, “the problem of the twentieth century would be the problem of the color line” (p.1), a reality that remains in the twenty-first century. From its discoveries to the present for Black boys, race has been the unavoidable focal point that has molded their material reality in different parts of their life, especially their academic encounters. Black boys are often categorized as bad, no matter what age, a response not only to their actions but a stereotype that often includes their character. Data reveals how Black boys in the adolescent years are more likely to be suspended and have higher suspension and expulsion rates in school. The Schott Foundation showed that Black boys are far more often suspended than most other ethnic groups and are overwhelmingly underrepresented in honors, gifted classes, and advanced placement courses, according to a 2012 study on Black boys and their education.  


Simply put, if public institution administrators see Black children as less innocent, less in need of support, and generally behaving like adults, it seems possible that Black children will also be viewed as more responsible for their decisions and, on that basis, disciplined more severely despite their childhood status. Adultification can therefore function as a leading cause of the unfairness in consequences of school punishment, stricter prosecution by law enforcement, and the differentiated practice of discretion by authorities across the juvenile justice system. 


The Influence of Society's Beliefs 

In primary schools, academic professionals and other administrators regularly deal with the youth and adolescents whose physical traits and mental development span a broad spectrum as they each are in developmental stages. Studies conducted by the University of Berkeley and the University of Oregon have shown that when juveniles begin to develop faster, their brains often react in ways that form their process of maturing and the course of their physical and social well-being to the stimuli of adults and peers in their lives. Thus, the way children are perceived by society matters, most negative effects become evident especially when a Black female student is being treated older than she is. Negative outcomes such as school dress code hypersexualization and unequal compliance, instant censorship when they make mistakes, and how responsibility is more likely to require punishment and expulsion as a form of disciplinary action. 


Black boys and girls were envisioned as chattels from the outset of slavery and were frequently forced to work as early as two and three years old. Black children were scarcely viewed as deserving of playtime and were harshly disciplined for displaying child-like conduct, prone to much of the same dehumanization experienced by Black adults. In relation to today's time, many who are in positions of having control over the lives of Black children ought to handle them based on their actual age, and not their perceived age based on their race. Bias in adultifying young children will cause educators as well as other authorities to handle Black children in developmentally unacceptable ways. In addition to increasing awareness of the problem, some solutions add that administrators and figures of authority must also take steps by enhancing their cultural skills and learn how to interact with Black children. That may lead to real steps to eliminate this prejudice, stressing that targeted learning would be more successful in helping teachers and other authority figures transcend their perceptions.


Countrywide, Black girls’ individual personalities are always shaped, judged, and recognized by how much attitude she shows those around her. The Black girl's personality, addressed as though it were as concrete as personal features like eye or hair color, can not be defined by any set of static characteristics or behavior. The angry Black woman myths— neck-rolling, finger-in-your-mouth, hands-on-hips—are the center of the public misunderstanding of what it means to be Black and female in America. In schools, this misunderstanding sometimes manifests when Black children tend to display fewer conforming behaviors in the classroom than their white counterparts. This, in turn, leads them to be subjected to less support and criticized more by their teachers.


Research and policy often describe the source of these problems as a product of Black children’s culturally deviant behaviors, and thus, minimize the role of race and racism in producing these outcomes. Thus, social and educational discourse frequently depict Black children as the source of their own problems, rather than that they face societal problems that stem from racism, capitalism, and other structural factors. The racialized depiction of Black children is often thought of as something that exclusively shapes the social lives of Black children’s adolescence and adulthood. Until it is seen that society cannot hold one race over another, Black bodies will still be seen through the terms and conditions of adultification.

1 Comment
Visionary I

Very well said, Taylor.  You've confronted norms many dare to address.

To add, I think adultification is enforced on black children with good intentions by parents, community members, educators, and more to help prepare them for a world that holds discrimination against the black community not necessarily noticeable.

"Black people must work twice as hard" is a philosophy that helps many live safe lives.  Even so, not even that will guarantee half the privilege of those non-black.

It is customary for some parents to work extra hours and leave their children to take on more advanced duties, especially daughters who must prioritize perfecting household chores and learning to take care of their family.