† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
There Are No Children Here
by nancy a heitzeg
“Racially differential treatment of children is an important yet under-explored arena within social psychology. The present findings suggest how urgently field and laboratory work are needed to fill in this research gap. In addition, they suggest that if, as Alice Walker says, “The most important question in the world is, “Why is the child crying’?” then, for Black children, the most important answer may be that they cry because they are not allowed to be children at all.
~ Goff, P. A., Jackson, M. C., Di Leone, B. A. L., Culotta, C. M., & DiTomasso, N. A. (2014, February 24). The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The title of this piece is of course stolen from Alex Kotolowitz whose 1987 book (and then Oprah TV movie) chronicled the lives of two boys growing up in the Henry Horner Homes. The title is meant to convey how concentrated poverty and its’ attendant social ills deprive children of the joy of innocence and the opportunity to be carefree. But as the introductory quote from this recent study reveals, there is another meaning too. Racism, particularly anti-Blackness, and deeply held implicit biases also disfigure “innocence”, denying Black children both humanity and childhood, defining them as miniature “adults” to be feared and then controlled.
This has profound implications for everyday interaction with adult caretakers, teachers, and police. Those who are expected to protect childhood innocence are now inclined to deny it, and these singular reactions by adults in charge serve to replicate and reinforce institutional racism. This denial of innocence shapes the racial contours of the school to prison pipeline , and , as we have seen again this week, underlies decisions to charge and incarcerate juveniles as adults, and then brutalize them once they are in custody.
Because There Are No Children Here.