Janae Pierre: I'm Janae Pierre, sitting in for Melissa Harris-Perry.
It's good to be with you. It's an act that's familiar to countless older siblings around the nation-- Pick up your younger siblings from after school, the bus stop, maybe even another friend's house, and then walk them home. It's an act that took a decidedly dangerous and near-deadly turn for 16-year-old Ralph Yarl of Kansas City, a "gentle soul, clarinet player, and member of his high school marching band." His aunt, Faith Spoonmore, spoke to CBS about Ralph.
Faith Spoonmore: Ralph is shy, he's quiet, he's witty, he has a good sense of humor. He's all Ralph. He's a sweet kid, and he's a harmless kid. That's the part, is that he would not harm a fly. He's 16 years old.
Janae Pierre: Ralph Yarl, the child who would not harm a fly, accidentally rang the wrong doorbell while trying to pick up his brothers. He was shot twice, once in the head, by a white homeowner last Thursday. Ralph has since been released from the hospital and is recovering at home, but his aunt Faith worries about the long-term psychological ramifications of his assault. The white man who shot him will now face two felonies-- Assault in the first degree, and armed criminal action.
Young Black boys, children, are often viewed as far older and threatening than reality would attest. This can have far-reaching consequences on their lives and their mental health.
Michael A. Lindsey: My name is Michael A. Lindsey. I am Dean and Paulette Goddard professor of social work at New York University's Silver School of Social Work.
Janae Pierre: When we talk about the adultification of Black children, what do we mean? What is that?
Michael A. Lindsey: Children are seen as being older than they are, and as such, tends to happen a lot among Black and brown youth. Some theories suggest, Janae, that the origins of this are rooted in slavery, when young children were forced to work alongside adults, and childlike behaviors were punished. We simply mean that youth are seen as being much older than they are, and there are studies that even confirm this.
A study by Philip Goff and colleagues revealed that, beginning as early as age 10, for Black boys, they are more likely to be perceived as older, viewed as suspected of crimes, face police violence if accused of a crime. Even for girls, it's not just for boys, for girls, a study from the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty presented data that adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers, particularly during the age range of 5 to 14 years old.
Janae Pierre: I have a 10-year-old brother. My dad has begun talking to him about the society we live in. I'm wondering how has society trained the world, specifically white people, to view young Black children.
Michael A. Lindsey: As early as Pre-K, and there are some studies that suggest that it happens as early as Pre-K, Black and brown kids are perceived as being dangerous, defiant, oppositional. We have framed this, in terms of thought and research, as implicit bias. It can happen that early, to the extent that we perceive, again, that Black and brown kids are dangerous, we treat how they behave differently.
Whereas white kids might be accorded mental health treatment and support, we often see, for Black and brown kids, that they are suspended or expelled from school disproportionately because of that perception, again, as early as Pre-K.
Janae Pierre: What does this adultification mean for the lives of everyday Black boys in the US?
Michael A. Lindsey: It means that they have to walk through life differently. It means that they are likely to be more anxious. They might also exude a sense of hopelessness, which is related to depression, or if they have tragic situations, such as what happened with Ralph Yarl, there's trauma associated with it. There's even vicarious or secondary trauma. Many kids will hear about young Ralph Yarl and fear that their lives might succumb to a similar tragedy, and that's really unfortunate.
Janae Pierre: Talk a bit about that trauma and what the future may, unfortunately, look like for Ralph Yarl, and how he gets past this moment.
Michael A. Lindsey: It's going to require a lot of mental health support, therapy, for Ralph, for his family, for many kids who experience circumstances just like Ralph. Obviously, I'm a strong proponent of mental health treatment and support. Oftentimes, it's going to be important that that support be school-based, so that there's proximity to being able to access those services. Prolonged, continued treatment to address the PTSD symptoms. I imagine that Ralph will continue to replay that moment in his life for years.
Janae Pierre: Why doesn't society view Black kids as worthy of protection?
Michael A. Lindsey: Well, I think that we can do certainly a better job of eliminating things like automatic suspensions and expulsions in schools, without doing further due diligence on the underlying reasons. There's research that suggests that, for example, kids who exhibit behavioral challenges in schools, Black kids, may do so because they are food insecure, or housing insecure, and oftentimes, we don't do further due diligence to understand what the precipitating circumstances are.
For every Black kid or brown kid that might exhibit or show anger, or oppositionality, volatility, in any sort, we should try to understand what underlies that in their life, in terms of their circumstances, family situation, et cetera, and try to address those underlying reasons.
Janae Pierre: Earlier, you talked about how Black kids have to walk through life differently. I'm wondering, how does all of this tie into the false societal connection between Blackness and criminality?
Michael A. Lindsey: It certainly ties into it. One might fear that they're going to have a negative encounter with law enforcement, the very entity in our lives that should be there to protect us, are viewed with trepidation or concern that there might be a negative encounter. I think that happens in so many different ways, Janae, whether you're fearful, as a Black person going to the mall, shopping, and being followed, or being pulled over. There's this constant fear of threat to your well-being.
It plays on the psychological and emotional well-being of a group of folks, Black and brown in particular, who are likely to be subjected to those moments. There's a lot of concern and fear that is a part of one's daily life, if you are Black and brown in America. I believe in the importance of doing implicit bias training with law enforcement and schools, and wherever there are opportunities to help those who are going to encounter Black and brown kids, to have a different outcome.
I think implicit bias training is incredibly important, but it does mean that one would fear and have concern that those interactions are going to go awry.
Janae Pierre: Okay, y'all, quick break here. More right after this, on The Takeaway. It's The Takeaway. I'm Janae Pierre, in for Melissa Harris-Perry. Michael A. Lindsey, the Dean of NYU's Silver School of Social Work, is here, as we continue our conversation on the adultification of young Black boys, in the wake of the shooting of 16-year-old Ralph Yarl in Kansas City this week. We've been talking about the trauma of all of this.
It's just been coming up over and over, as expected. How does this type of adultification of young Black boys impact their mental health?
Michael A. Lindsey: Well, I think that it, first of all, leads to this healthy dose of suspicion, which can activate you in terms of being more cautious about how you interact with law enforcement. It also can be a burden, a perpetual burden, that one fears or contains as a result of that experience, so that engenders a sense of anxiety. Again, the hopelessness, which is symptomatic of depression, that, "Why?" The questions emerge, like, "Why do I have to go through this? Why is it that I feel like I have a target on my back?"
Then again, if you've had those experiences, or if you know someone that's close to you, or that lives in your community, that's had that kind of interaction with law enforcement, it likely engenders a sense of distress and fear. Trauma, trauma-type symptoms, whether you're hyper-aroused, whether you have difficulty concentrating, or staying focused, all those kinds of mental health challenges are associated with this sense of being Black. What it means to be Black in America.
Janae Pierre: For those of us who love Black children, who are indeed a part of their village, what can we do to help protect their mental health and to prepare them for the racism that they will sadly encounter in this world?
Michael A. Lindsey: It's important, as much as possible, to help our young kids be kids. I think even the languaging that we often use. For example, it might be, "Oh, he's the man of the house," or, "That's my little man." We might see those terms or use those terms as terms of endearment, but at the same time, we might be facilitating or ushering in this perspective that kids have, that they are older than they are, or that they are saddled with so much responsibility that adultifies them, if you will.
Janae Pierre: Lastly, I wonder, in your opinion, what would a world that loved Black children look like?
Michael A. Lindsey: That is a powerful, powerful question. I think that it would embrace Black children in all forms, no matter how they identify, no matter how big or small they might be in stature, size, that they would be loved, not followed, or harassed. They would be asked how they're feeling, and that would be appreciated and loved. They would be able to make a mistake. Ralph Yarl made a mistake, he went to the wrong house, and it should not have ended with him almost losing his life.
There is a world then, that doesn't penalize or punish minor mistakes. That's a world that I would envision, that is loving, and embraces Black youth in all forms.
Janae Pierre: That was Michael A. Lindsey, the Dean of NYU's Silver School of Social Work.
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