A recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, shows just how often black children are dehumanized not only by cops, but by people in general. Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime.
“Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection,” author Phillip Atiba Goff of UCLA told the American Psychological Association. “Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent.”
Researchers tested 176 police officers, mostly white males, average age 37, in large urban areas, to determine their levels of two distinct types of bias — prejudice and unconscious dehumanization of black people by comparing them to apes. To test for prejudice, researchers had officers complete a widely used psychological questionnaire with statements such as “It is likely that blacks will bring violence to neighborhoods when they move in.”
The researchers ran four different experiments aimed at gauging how people perceived criminal acts (both misdemeanors and felonies) depending on if the boy that committed it was black or white. Participants took a series of tests gauging racial attitudes and subtle associations. One test “primed” participants by flashing the names of either great cats, like lions, or apes. Two groups of people were interviewed, college-aged students and police officers. The group of police officers were evaluated on another metric: their on-the-job record of use of force against criminal suspects.
We’ll start with that last bit of data. The graph at right shows the number of use of force incidents by officers in the study (though a small majority of officers had never used force). “[T]he implicit dehumanization of Blacks,” the study’s authors write, “was a significant predictor of racial disparities in the use of force against children” — though they’re clear to note that it is “plausible that negative interactions with Black children disproportionately produce implicit anti-Black dehumanization.”
The correlation between dehumanization and use of force becomes more significant when you consider that black boys are routinely estimated to be older than they are. The two graphs show the age estimates for the college students, left, and police participants in the study.
This study proves exactly what we’ve already known for a long time. You have to value your black children, because it’s obvious others won’t.