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The ‘Adultifiation’ of Black Children

June 1, 2020

Black is scary. Black is bad. Black is feared. How many of you grew up with those ideas being part of your socialization? If you are confused or didn’t answer, “Me”, then truthfully, you are not being honest. As Lisa Delpit stated in her book Multiplication is for White People, “we are all racism breathers. “This statement is based in work of Beverly Tatum who provides a powerful metaphor. Tatum explains that in the same way residents who live in highly polluted areas cannot avoid becoming “smog breathers,” Americans who are immersed in the structures and practices of white supremacy unwittingly become “racism breathers”. Many of us may not realize the degree to which these toxic beliefs shape our perceptions and experiences of the world. Unless we have opportunities to unlearn racism, these messages become absorbed and have consequences.”

So, we, as Americans, all grow up as racism breathers learning that black is bad. In movies, dark scenes often indicate something scary is going to happen. Many children grow up being afraid of the dark, which is internalized through socialization. While we all reflect on this concept and, if we are honest with ourselves, we know this is something we consciously work against daily as individuals and a society. Furthermore, research supports this concept—adults have shown that black is negative in their classifications between good and bad.

This brings us to present day. We witnessed another murder at the hands of police of another black person. This brings up back to “Black is scary.” Adding to this is the concept that in America Black bodies are owned. This is the history of America, our history and present day.

This piece of writing came about because of a picture I saw on social media. One that truly spoke to me. It was the picture of a black boy holding a sign asking why society turns their view of him from cute to scary. This happens in the blink of an eye for black children. It is a truth that black children are “adultified” and miss out on the growing years of adolescence where mistakes can be made and people forgive, rather than kill. Black children, in the eyes of Americans, go from cute, to scary in the blink of an eye, when white children get the “growing years.” Remember Tamir Rice was 12 when he was murdered by police bullets. In the eyes of Americans (white) he was “adultified”. He was deemed scary because of the color of his skin. He was seen as an adult because of the color of his skin. Just remember, 12-year olds are 5th and 6th graders. If you are white, or have white children in your life, think about 5th and 6th grade students. They are still children. Their brains are still forming. They are still learning about life. And for some Black children, they may be just starting to become aware of a society that is scared of them, especially because one year earlier they were seen as cute. The adultification of black children moves them from cute children to scary adults and skips the learning years of adolescence and young adult because we are racism breathers.

For some of you this is new information, for some of you this is old information, and for some of you this is information that you knew, but made you reflect. Whichever group you are in you are probably sitting there and thinking—so what can I do? You probably have seen lists upon blog posts about things to do. When looking through these consciously reflect on the information that is being presented. Does it throw up red flags? Does it do something that is beneficial? Is it for my growth, my child’s growth, or for society’s growth? You have to find your level of comfort and then take the next step because the line between comfortable and uncomfortable is where the growth begins. While I do not have the “right” answers, here is what I am doing in my house, with my son, who is a black 11-year-old in America.

  1. Engage in discussions through literacy.
  2. Listening to NPR, that is often child friendly, but also provides warnings if anything is going to be played that is inappropriate.
  3. Having honest conversations and welcome questions. While this is important, it is also important that I am knowledgeable with information before answering questions with false information.
  4. Providing options for social justice interactions with purposes and procedures.

Whatever you do, be aware, be honest, be open, and grow to learn by moving from comfortable to uncomfortable.


I also read this live on Facebook. One thing added when I did the live Facebook post:

Many parents, specifically white, say to me, “My children are to young to have these conversations.” My push-back? “The children who are dead were not too young. The children who have it in their communities are not too young. Why do your children get the privilege of ‘being too young’ but others don’t?”


From → Education

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