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Studies Confirm the Dehumanization of Black Children and the ‘Preschool-to-Prison Pipeline’
Posted on Apr 3, 2014
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Although African-Americans constitute only 13 percent of all Americans, nearly half of all prison inmates in the U.S. are black. This startling statistic has led the United Nations Human Rights Committee to publicly criticize the U.S. for its treatment of African-Americans. A number of recent studies and reports paint a damning picture of how American society dehumanizes blacks starting from early childhood.
Racial justice activists and prison abolition groups have long argued that the “school-to-prison” pipeline funnels young black kids into the criminal justice system, with higher rates of school suspension and arrest compared with nonblack kids for the same infractions. More than 20 years ago, Smith College professor Ann Arnett Ferguson wrote a groundbreaking book based on her three-year study of how black boys in particular are perceived differently starting in school. In “Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity,” Ferguson laid out the ways in which educators and administrators funneled black male students into the juvenile justice system based on perceived differences between them and other students.
Today this trend continues with record numbers of suspensions as a result of “zero-tolerance” school policies and the increasing presence of campus police officers who arrest students for insubordination, fights and other types of behavior that might be considered normal “acting out” in school-aged children. In fact, black youth are far more likely to be suspended from school than any other race. They also face disproportionate expulsion and arrest rates, and once children enter the juvenile justice system they are far more likely to be incarcerated as adults.
Even the Justice Department under President Obama has understood what a serious problem this is, issuing a set of new guidelines earlier this year to curb discriminatory suspension in schools.
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Consistent with this educational data and taking into account broader demographic, family and economic data for children of various races, broken down by state, is a newer study released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that found African-American children are on the lowest end of nearly every measured index including proficiency in math and reading, high school graduation, poverty and parental education. The report, titled Race for Results, plainly says, “The index scores for African-American children should be considered a national crisis.”
Two other studies published recently offer specific evidence of how black children are so disadvantaged at an early age. One research project, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, examined how college students and police officers estimated the ages of children who they were told had committed crimes. Both groups studied by UCLA professor Phillip Goff and collaborators were more likely to overestimate the ages of black children compared with nonblack ones, implying that black children were seen as “significantly less innocent” than others. The authors wrote:
Another study by researchers at UC Riverside found that teachers tended to be more likely to evaluate black children negatively than nonblack ones who were engaged in pretend play. Psychology professor Tuppett M. Yates, who led the study, observed 171 preschool-aged children interacting with stuffed toys and other props and evaluated them for how imaginative and creative they were. In an interview on Uprising, Yates told me that all the children, regardless of race, were “similarly imaginative and similarly expressive,” but when their teachers evaluated those same children at a later time, there was a discriminatory effect. Yates explained, “For white children, imaginative and expressive players were rated very positively [by teachers] but the reverse was true for black children. Imaginative and expressive black children were perceived as less ready for school, as less accepted by their peers, and as greater sources of conflict and tension.”
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