Let Black Children Be Children

They deserve it. 

All children deserved to be treated like human beings. Black children deserve to be treated like valuable and fragile little human beings — like other children get to be treated.

We hold black children to the standard that we hold most adults and that’s not fair.

When a black child does something wrong, why is the child often referred to as a “man” or “woman” or “adult” by the media? Did our children not earn the right to a childhood because they were born Black?

When Trayvon Martin was murdered, some media reports referred to him as a man. Same with Tamir Rice. Same with Michael Brown.

Maybe it’s because black boys are perceived as older than they actually are. Maybe it’s because Black children are adults until proven innocent.

What’s more problematic is that society often blames black children for their behavior, but excuses the same behaviors that occurs in other children.

One study even stated, “When it came to how often schools doled out punishment, students’ race appeared far more significant than their actual behavior.”

Black children are suspended at exponentially higher rates than their white peers for the same infractions. Even Black children in preschool are criminalized for what should be considered kid behavior.

Black kids are more likely to get arrested than other students. Black students are more likely to be disciplined for subjective offenses (defiance and loitering) while white students are punished for more objective offenses (vandalism, fighting, truancy).

Gender makes no difference. Black girls are suspended at higher rates than other girl students for the same offenses. Black boys are suspended at higher rates than all other students for the same offenses.

Why are black children being targeted for their behavior when study after study says black children exhibit the same behavior as their peers? Why aren’t black children allowed to make bad decisions — like children tend to do — without the behavior being associated with their character? There are no bad children, they just make bad decisions.

There’s also an equally insidious problem that is preventing black children from having a childhood.

I teach in a school that has had more than a number of serious behavior issues from students. My school is entirely African-American, and some of the behaviors I’ve seen at my school are reminiscent of scenes from Lean On Me — and I teach in an elementary school.

I get it. Sometimes kids make really really bad decisions. Sometimes it is hard to not punish students for their bad behavior because, well, the behavior isbad.

Still, there are no bad kids. There are bad adults.

Now I’m not saying teachers are the problem. I’m not saying parents are the problem. We all are the problem. Society as a whole has deprived black children of their right to be a child.

Black children are disdained by the media. Forgotten by the community. Shunned by adults — parents, teachers, and community members alike. Forcibly given adult responsibilities because of generational poverty. In many ways, they are grown. They were forced to grow up. A history of implicit biases, institutional racism, generational poverty, and a general lack of human respect took their childhood.

So how can we expect black children to act like children when, in so many ways, they are forced to be adults?

Children are not responsible for how they are as children. We are responsible for how they are as children, and if we do not look for ways to give them their childhood back, we will be responsible for how they are as adults.

Stop asking “What’s wrong with this generation?” and remember that we are the ones that raised it. We bred the kids into mini adults, then we punish them for being children. When we see children behaving in extreme ways, what do we expect? This was our creation.

Black children are growing up in a system that punishes them and tells them they are bad, and the adults that look like them are telling them the same thing.

We can give Black children their childhoods back by loving them. No matter their behavior. No matter how much they curse or fight or act “deviant” they are, and always will be, children.

We may not be able to change a child’s poverty status. We may not be able to change how the media perceives them.

As a collective, we can change school policy. Disproportionate suspension rates must stop. We can love black children in ways that shows them that they are valuable human beings. “It is easier to build strong children than to fix broken adults.”

We need to stop blaming Black children for their behavior, and find more ways, even when it’s hard, to love them.

KV ThompsonComment