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Adultification of
Black Children

Introduction to the Adultification of Black children

While it is commonly believed that children are inherently innocent, Black children often face harmful societal stereotypes. They are seen as more mature, responsible, potentially threatening, and less deserving of innocence than their white peers. The damaging stereotypes of Black children known as “adultification bias,” which directly results from anti-blackness, which  legitimises and rationalises bias and discriminatory practices against Black people. Unfortunately, the problem is nationwide in the UK and exists in other parts of the world too, including the US; it is part of a broader pattern of systemic racism.

This article explores how anti-blackness affects Black children, specifically through the experience of adultification bias. By examining the historical context of anti-blackness, defining adultification, and exploring how it affects Black children, this article highlights the urgent need for change. Ultimately, this article highlights why it is essential to raise awareness of the impact of anti-blackness and the adultification of Black children to help create a better culture that values and supports the well-being of all individuals.

Explanation of anti-blackness and adultification

Anti-blackness is the systemic and historical oppression of Black people, deeply ingrained in many societies for centuries. Concerning the UK, it is deeply embedded in many aspects of culture, including institutional policies, cultural norms, and individual attitudes and behaviours. 

Adultification, on the other hand, is a term used to describe the tendency to view Black children as more mature and less innocent than their white peers, even at a young age. This leads to them being treated as older than they are and being held to higher standards of behaviour than their white peers.

Importance of understanding how these issues affect black children

It’s essential to comprehend how anti-blackness and adultification impact Black children, as these issues can harm their well-being and development. For example, the adultification of Black children can lead to being disciplined more harshly in school or criminalised by the justice system at a young age.

This can lead to the school-to-prison pipeline, where Black children are disproportionately impacted by higher rates of imprisonment and fewer opportunities for success in adulthood. Additionally, anti-blackness can lead to many adverse outcomes for Black children, including lower self-esteem, poorer mental health, and reduced academic achievement.

Overview of historical discrimination against Black people in the UK

The UK has a long history of discrimination against Black people, dating back to the era of the British Empire and its involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. During the 20th century, many Black people came to the UK as part of the Windrush generation; they faced discrimination and racism, including exclusion from jobs and housing and police brutality.

Connection to current anti-black attitudes and beliefs

Despite legal protections against discrimination, anti-black attitudes and beliefs persist in the UK today. This is evident in the disproportionate rates of police brutality, imprisonment and the prevalence of racial profiling and discrimination in law enforcement, employment and housing. Additionally, the mainstream media perpetuates negative stereotypes of Black people, contributing to anti-black attitudes and societal beliefs.

Examples of how adultification can manifest in the lives of black children

Adultification of Black children can manifest in several ways in the lives. For example, Black girls may be perceived as more sexually mature than their white peers, which can result in them being punished for dress code violations or labelled as “fast” or “promiscuous.” Black boys may be perceived as more threatening, resulting in them being disciplined more harshly in school or viewed as suspects by law enforcement.

Effects of Adultification on Black Children’s Development and Well-being

The effects of adultification on Black children’s development and well-being can be significant. Being held to higher standards of behaviour than their white peers can lead to feelings of pressure and stress and a sense of unfairness or injustice.

Impact on their interactions with authority figures

The experience of adultification can impact Black children’s interactions with authority figures, such as teachers, police officers, and other adults in positions of power. As Black children who are adultified are often seen as more threatening or dangerous, this leads to increased surveillance and harsher punishments. 

This perception can also lead to implicit bias, impacting how authority figures interact with Black children. The perception of Black children as “adult-like” contributes to the belief that they are more responsible for their mistreatment rather than recognising the role of anti-blackness, systemic racism and discrimination. This can create a sense of mistrust and fear in interactions with authority figures, leading to further negative outcomes.

For example, at the beginning of April 2023, the investigative journalism group Liberty Investigates, almost half of all types of strip searches performed by Metropolitan Police on female children and teenagers aged 19 and under were Black. And that Black girls are three times more likely to experience invasive strip searches compared to their white peers. 

Another example is the case of Child Q, a 15-year-old Black schoolgirl, she was subjected to a degrading strip search by four Metropolitan Police officers without parental consent. This happened while she was on her period and had been falsely accused of carrying cannabis at school. According to the 2022 Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review, Child Q made the following statement:

“I don’t know if I’m going to feel normal again. I don’t know how long it will take to repair my box. But I do know this can’t happen to anyone, ever again.” “All the people that allowed this to happen need to be held responsible. I was held responsible for a smell.”

Connection to the school-to-prison pipeline

A significant impact of adultification is the school-to-prison pipeline. Black children who are adultified are more likely to be punished severely for minor offences and are more likely to be funnelled into the criminal justice system. 

This process is facilitated by systemic racism in schools, where Black students are disproportionately punished and suspended compared to their White counterparts. Consequently, Black children risk losing access to education and career opportunities, which can limit their chances of success in adulthood.

Negative Impacts of Adultification on Black Children’s Mental Health

Adultification can also have significant impacts on Black children’s mental health. Being treated as an adult at a young age can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress about unfairness or injustice. 

Black children who are adultified may feel as though they are not allowed to be children and can become alienated from their peers. This isolation can lead to feelings of hopelessness, which can impact their self-esteem and overall mental health.

Advocating for Safe and Nurturing Environments for Black Children

As a society, amplifying support for Black children by advocating for safe and nurturing environments that promote their healthy development is vital. This means prioritising culturally responsive education and discipline practices in schools, ensuring access to mental health resources, and working towards addressing biases in child welfare and foster care systems. We must also address the harmful and discriminatory practices of stop-and-search and strip searches, which disproportionately affect Black children.

We urge policymakers to implement reforms that reduce the use of these practices and ensure they are carried out fairly and without discrimination. It’s essential to increase accountability and transparency in the use of these practices.

Join us in advocating for policies that promote dignity and respect for all individuals, regardless of their race or ethnicity. Together, we can create a more equitable and just society that values and supports all individuals, and where Black children and families can thrive without fear of discrimination or harm.

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