Letting Black Children be Children

image of young black child smiling

Children are defined by their innocence, playfulness, curiosity, and youthfulness. However, those characteristics are defining White children. A set of studies titled, “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children,” conducted by Phillip Goff and colleagues, explains that with the prejudice and discrimination surrounding Black children, they need fewer basic needs and protection. In other words, their innocence is stripped away. But why? Why are Black children treated differently than their White counterparts?

In the set of studies, their main goal was to find the true essence of dehumanization. The act of dehumanizing Black children means that their human protections are reduced. Goff et al stated that this was done by “…making them seem older and decreasing the perception of “children” as essential…” (2014). Essentially, they are being treated like adults. The first study conducted by Goff and his colleagues focused on this the most. In this study, they brought in a sample of majority White, college students and assigned them to a group of children and asked them to rate their innocence. These groups were categorized by White children, Black children, and then just children and then each participant were given subgroups of ages. Their prediction was based on the research of dehumanization of Black children- participants assigned to the group of Black children, would see, and place them as less innocent than the other two groups. Results showed that this was indeed true. Black children were seen as less innocent for every age group after age 9. This means that after the age of 9, Black children are looked at no differently than adults.

Overall, the results of their studies showed that race plays a big role in how people perceive the innocence of a child. The reason for these differences in perceptions because of race is because of dehumanization. Reducing or taking away the possession of essential characteristics of human beings from Black children allow for people to perceive them as older than they are. This is seen in society with the murders of innocent Black children and the everyday discrimination faced by Black people. The only thing not answered in these studies was what can be done about this? Specifically, how does society get rid of these ideas and treat Black children as who they are, children?


Goff, P., Jackson, C. M., Lewis, A. B, et al. (2014). The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 106(4).