Legend Preston, a 10-year-old bigger-bodied Black boy, was chased by Newark officers with their guns drawn because they thought he was a suspect in an armed robbery. In the video footage his mom took, Preston says, “Some police started coming this way with guns pointed at me, and then I ran into the backyard.” He goes on to say, “I ran because they thought that I rolled the ball into the street on purpose, and they were just holding shotguns at me trying to shoot me.”
The violence of assuming a Black child to be an adult or a man speaks volumes to the logic and concept of the white gaze when it comes to Black children’s bodies. Throughout history, white people have justified the violence, harm and labor done to Black children by scripting their Blackness as dangerous and meant for labor at all ages. Black boys were castrated as babies specifically to protect white womanhood because white ideology framed all Black boys and men as rapists and predators.
In the show Underground, the young boy named James, who is only six, was put on the cotton fields to pick cotton for hours with no hesitation. In contrast, his best friend, T.R., who was the child of the plantation owner, was empowered at the same age that he would inherit the whole land and all of the slaves on it. The protection and entitlement that has already been instilled in T.R., a young white boy, versus the labor, violence, exploitation, and dehumanizing of James, a young Black boy, illustrates how differently antiblackness and oppression can shift access to childhood.
When we specifically add in the layers of fatphobia and colorism within this violent situation, it adds more complex nuance to the levels of antiblackness Legend suffered. Being bigger-bodied and dark-skinned as a Black child means dealing with levels of dehumanization and the denial of childhood/innocence/youth. Similar to Mike Brown, the assumption is that bigger-bodied, dark-skin Black boys are men — meaning they are predators and any contact with them inherently means “kill or be killed.”
An American Psychological Association article, “Black Boys Viewed as Older, Less Innocent Than Whites, Research Finds,” states:
“Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence 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.”
After the murders of Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin, we are consistently shown how childhood and the characteristics of innocence and purity are denied to black children. The unconscious dehumanization and antiblack violence of Black children by white people, police officers and state agents will always be something we must be aware of.
When we discuss how to protect Black children, it must always incorporate a lens of how often Black children are viewed as adults, but also that Black children are so weighed down with defense mechanisms to survive white supremacy that it erases the ability to remain ignorant of the very real violence that is awaiting them everyday of their life. Legend Preston and all Black children deserve better.