Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children
Hat-tip to CFBostonBrian who referenced a link on his blog. Reading that link, I found another link to a 20 page report by Phillip Atiba Goff and Matthew Christian Jackson of the University of California, Los Angeles; Brooke Allison Lewis DiLeone of the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Boston, Massachusetts; Carmen Marie Culotta and Natalie Ann DiTomasso of the University of Pennsylvania. The research paper is titled “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children.”
Their study, conducted in 2008, indirectly corrected me on using the term “demeaning”. I should have been using the term “dehumanizing.”
When Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012, there were people online who vigorously argued against Trayvon being a child. That argument continues today. I looked for reasons behind the demeaning because it was more than racial prejudice — it was absolute hatred, wishes of violence, and disrespect for human life.
The research and study conducted by Goff and colleagues supports that there is a link between dehumanization and sanctioned violence. It gives a history of dehumanization in the United States as a necessary condition for state-sanctioned violence. :
“The logic of this assertion is that dehumanizing groups morally excludes them (Opotow, 1990), making it permissible to treat people in a way that would be morally objectionable if they were fully human. U.S. history is replete with examples of this kind of moral exclusion of Black children. For instance, the policies of chattel slavery (mostly pertaining to peoples of African descent) permitted children to be separated from their parents and forced into labor at any age (Guttman, 1976). In 1944, a Black 14-year-old, George Junius Stinney Jr., became the youngest person on record in the United States to be legally executed by the state (electrocuted without the benefit of a lawyer, witnesses, or a record of confession; Jones, 2007). And, notoriously, in 1955, a 14-year-old Black boy named Emmett Till was dragged from his bed, disfigured, and lynched for allegedly whistling at a White woman (Crowe, 2003). What psychological context could explain this treatment of children? Again, there is reason to believe it may be contexts that provoke dehumanization.”
Its introduction explains the social category of “children,” and defines it as a group of individuals who are perceived to be distinct, with essential characteristics including innocence and the need for protection. The research examined whether Black boys are given the protection of children equal to their peers. The research tested 3 hypothesis;
(a) that Black boys are seen as less “childlike” than their White peers,
(b) that the characteristics associated with childhood will be applied less when thinking specifically about Black boys relative to White boys, and
(c) that these trends would be exacerbated in contexts where Black males are dehumanized by associating them (implicitly) with apes.
The research found that dehumanization of Black males is actual racial disparity in police violence towards Black children. Researchers also found converging evidence that Black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their White same-age peers.
Tests involved White participants who were subliminally exposed to images of apes before watching a video of police beating a Black man. Participants were more likely to endorse that beating, despite the extremity of the violence. Participants did not, however, endorse the same beating when the suspect was White or when they had not been primed with the ape image.
The report makes some profound conclusions;
“In other words, our findings suggest that, although most children are allowed to be innocent until adulthood, Black children may be perceived as innocent only until deemed suspicious.”
Keeping in mind that the research was conducted in 2008, we see evidence today that the findings are true. Tamir Rice was 12-years old when he was on a playground with a toy gun, and was shot down by a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio. Those justifying his killing argue Tamir’s physical appearance. The dehumanizers could not argue that the photo of Tamir was from when he was 8 years old, so they began dehumanizing Tamir’s parents.
Timothy Loehmann, who killed Tamir Rice, gave a signed statement to investigators where he demonstrates disrespecting Tamir as a human being by his failure to mention Tamir’s name, and saying he “appeared to be over 18 years old and about 185 pounds.”
Darren Wilson, who killed Michael Brown, described Michael before the grand jury as looking like a “demon.”
George Zimmerman called the non-emergency number and described the suspicious person as in his late teens. At his bond hearing however, he said that he thought Trayvon was around his age.
Eight years after the research, we find people on social media who consistently dehumanize Blacks by calling or comparing them to animals; who wish violence against those they dehumanize; and who believe that it is okay to represent a Black teen as an adult.
“Dehumanization, although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order that engenders violence in the oppressors, which in turn dehumanizes the oppressed.”
― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed