All children should be considered innocent. And, studies have shown that up until a certain age, most children are, in fact, considered innocent. The problem arises, however, when certain children, children of a specific race, are thought of as less innocent than their age-mates of different races. This situation is seen most profoundly in the difference in perceptions of White and Black children. Unfortunately, this idea that Black children are less innocent than White children continues to plague African Americans into adulthood, where they become so dehumanized, their mistreatment is overlooked.
Before continuing, it should be noted that dehumanization is much worse than stereotyping or prejudices. Stereotypes can cause prejudices, which is a general idea about a large group of people. While definitely a horrible consequence of racial divides in the United States, prejudice towards African Americans isn’t as terrible as dehumanizing. When a person or group of people are dehumanized, basic human rights aren’t afforded to them. In today’s turbulent world, the increased dehumanizing of African Americans is seen every single day.
A recent study done by a coalition of several universities looked at the consequences of dehumanizing Black children. Several experiments were done for this study that examined how various people view the innocence of Black children as these children get older. The results showed that most children were considered innocent until about the age of eight. At this point, White children were still considered innocent, but Black children were perceived less and less innocent.
This study, while very informative, only confirms what many who are aware of the social injustices in the country have long held to be true. When children of a certain race are thought of as more likely to behave badly, when those children grow into adults, the same society that saw them as guilty children will see them as guilty adults. This leads to huge issues in misrepresentation and only feeds the racism in this country.
The extremely sad part of this study showed that African Americans predicted that this is how their children would be viewed. They’re aware that this leads to them being feared by ethnic majorities and persecuted by police forces. This is seen throughout the criminal justice system, which only serves to perpetuate these stereotypes.
However, just because this is the case at the moment doesn’t mean it will be true forever. The African American community has proved over and over that it is extremely resilient and has overcome obstacle after obstacle. Even today, the hostile climate African Americans have been living in is beginning to shift. More people are becoming aware of these discrepancies in society. For the first time in generations, politicians are beginning to discuss what needs to be fixed to begin changing the current hostile environment.
More importantly, the African American community is growing louder in its refusal to be dehumanized. They’re becoming more active in local and national politics, which is the start of influencing the way laws are made and how society is run. While the changes may seem small now, they will accumulate into real, tangible progress.