Menacing, he’s 5-feet-7, 191 pounds. He wasn’t that little kid you’re seeing in pictures, he’s a 12-year-old in an adult body. This was the description that Stephen Loomis former president of the Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association, gave of 12-year-old Tamir Rice just days after he was shot dead by a police officer responding to an emergency call of a Black man with a gun. Loomis’s words are indicative of a large issue facing Black boys in our society.
The continuous removal of adolescence and adultifcation of Black boys (Goff, Jackson, Di Leone, Culotta, & DiTomasso, 2014; Jarrett, 2003) has become a detriment to the safety and innocence of Black youth. The distinction between someone aged 12 and someone aged 28 is not simply the years that separate their ages but the experience, development and comprehension of the world around them (Ali Norozi & Moen, 2016). However, more research is showing that young Black boys are being viewed as adults. Furthermore, this perception of older age is in concurrence with a view of less innocence and less “child-like” attributes for Black boys than their White counterparts. The danger in these perceptions is that these youth are robbed of the veil that would protect them as they develop.
There is a fear of Black men in our society, however there is little conversation about the allocation of this fear to Black boys as they are too often perceived as men before they have had the opportunity to mentally, emotional and socially develop as such. Bearing in mind this fear of Black men that permeates our society, Black boys are at increased risk of experiencing negative adult oriented interactions. Evidence of this continuously appears daily in our society for example; a police officer pulling his gun on unarmed Black teenagers at a pool party in McKinley, TX; similar experience for Black and Latino teens in Los Angeles that walked on a neighbors grass and found themselves being held at gunpoint by the homeowner.
The continuous removal of adolescence and adultifcation of Black boys has become a detriment to the safety and innocence of Black youth
However, observing and treating young Black males as adults exceeds the treatment by law enforcement and authority figures. It is perpetuated in homes by parents and family members as well as youth serving organizations and groups (schools, coaches, sports leagues and clubs, etc.). Studies have found similar treatment and perceptions in school settings creating a continuous reinforced view of these young boys as adults and thus they experience harsher and often more physical treatment (Harding, 2010; Rios, 2006, 2011). This continuous treatment and view of Black boys generates a perspective of manhood that is defined by tough love, mal treatment, high levels of responsibility, and aggression. This is particularly important when considering research that has found using phrases such as “be a man” or “man up” to have detrimental effects on the mental health and development of boys. The mounting evidence on this consequence begs the question: How does being treated as a man affect a young boy, both inside and outside the home?
Few discussions have occurred on the detrimental effects of labeling a boy a man and what is implied when a parent tells their young son to be a man, particularly little has been discussed in terms of mental health of Black boys – who are not only told to be a man in their homes but also treated as such by society and authority figures. The act of taking on the burdens of manhood both in the home and outside of the home creates a unique paradigm in which Black boys are forced to navigate daily life with the development, experience and comprehension of a child all the while facing responsibilities, reactions, treatment and consequences of a man, in particular a Black man. One cannot fully understand the depth of a young Black men’s comprehension of manhood and masculinity without also investigating experiences of these young men as boys. In line with this argument the need to investigate young Black men’s experiences as to gain a greater understanding of their upbringing as well as their daily life experiences as young boys could quite possibly illuminate a Black man’s adoption of manhood.