Dehumanization of Black Children Research Analysis

03 Apr 2018

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  • Christeen Perera

Critical analysis of the research experiment “The essence of innocence: consequences of dehumanizing black children”

The research named “the essence of innocence: consequences of dehumanizing black children” was conducted by Phillip Atiba Goff and Mathew Christian Jackson of the university of California, Brooke Alison Lewis De Leone of the national center for post traumatic stress disorder in Boston Massachusetts, Carmen Marie Culotta of the Pennsylvania State University and Natalie Ann DiTomasso of the University of Pennsylvania.

In this research which was done recently, the authors have formed a hypothesis to see why black boys are dehumanized when compared to their peers. The main reason behind these experiments is that black boys are sent to juvenile more than the whites. Before they conducted the research they also found that judges in cases involving black children seemed to believe that black child compared with white child in the same age is more matured and that he has full understating of the certain crime he has committed, which led the judge to make a preconceived decision to give a harsh sentence to the black child when compared with a white child who may have committed the same crime.

The researchers formed three hypotheses to test their theory. They were a) black boys are seen less childlike than their white peers b) characteristics associated with childhood are less applied to when thinking specifically of black children compared to white boys c) black males are dehumanized by associating them with apes (essence of innocence, 2014). Four experiments were conducted using laboratory, field and transitional methods to prove their hypotheses. This research has also been cited in nine articles.

Taking the first hypothesis which was that “black boys are seen as less childlike than their white peers” in to consideration, it can be said that this is a statement based on dehumanization and prejudice. Black boys are seen as much older than their white peers, which leads other adults to make decisions which will harm the entire life of an innocent child. Prejudices based on skin color are common. But creating prejudice over skin color when the life of a child is in danger is in-human. Such prejudices often lead to a black child being given harsh, adult-like punishments. In the research it states that “several researches have argued in particular that dehumanization is distinct from prejudice because prejudice is a broad intergroup attitude whereas dehumanization is the route to moral exclusion, the denial of basic human protections to a group of people”(opotow, 1990: Powell, 2012; staub, 1989) in this situation dehumanization is not distinct from prejudice because the dehumanizing of black children has occurred as a direct result of prejudice.

Dehumanization of black children has been occurring since the time when slavery was introduced in the United States. From separating to children from their parents to be used in slavery to electrocuting an innocent child for an unseen crime, such ‘moral exclusions’ has taken place repeatedly in the history of a great nation.

Considering the second hypothesis which was tested, “characteristics of childhood will be applied less when thinking specifically about black children relative to white boys” we can see how this has affected many social aspects including the judicial system of the United States. As mentioned the journal article “in 1944, a black 14 year old, George Junius Stinney Jr. became the youngest person on record in the United States to be legally executed by the state, electrocuted without the benefit of a lawyer, witness or a record of confessions.” (Jones, 2007) proves how the judicial system, which is said to be designed to provide protection equally to all children and adults, has been affected by racial prejudice. Earlier studies done on this topic has also concluded that ‘black’ children are not seen as children but rather as adults and that they are also given less protection and that they are also considered to be much older than their actual age and maturity level.

The final hypothesis tested, “black males are dehumanized by associating them with apes” has shown the reason behind why people including police officers tend to be more violent towards black male adults or children. Generally, associating a group of people with animals is a form of dehumanization. (Essences of innocence, 2014) In a previous study done “white participants who were exposed to images of apes before being exposed to a video of police beating a black man was more likely to endorse that beating, despite the extremity of the violence. But participants did not endorse the same beating when they were not primed with the ape pictures and when the suspect as white.” (Essence of innocence, 2014)

According to the results received from the four studies the researchers conducted, it was proved that violence towards black children is higher than violence towards white children. The results also revealed that “black boys are seen as more culpable for their actions (less innocent) within a criminal justice context than their peers of other races. (Essence of innocence, 2014) These findings not only prove the racial dehumanization to towards blacks in general but also the racial prejudice towards black children in police violence in ‘real life settings’. Also this study shows that black boys seem as older to their peers in other races.

In conclusion, this study has gifted valuable contributions towards the study of intergroup relations and prejudices. This has also provided insight for social groups and racial prejudice which creates intergroup bias, where in this situation the superior or dominant race creates prejudice towards the minority or dominant race. Also black boys should not be perceived as pre-mature as or older than their actual age and hold them account for the crimes they commit. In this research “the findings suggest that dehumanization may affect other person perception functions in the service of permitting severe out-group derogation and antagonism.” (Essence of innocence, 2014) Therefore racial discrimination towards black children should not be encouraged in any way, especially by the law of the United State. Children are children; they should be protected and their innocence should be heard and understood despite their colored skin.

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Goff, P., Jackson, M., Leone, B., Culotta, C., & Ditomasso, N. (2014). The essence of innocence: Consequences of dehumanizing Black children. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 526-545. Retrieved December 16, 2014, from

Jones, M. R. (2007). South Carolina killers: Crimes of passion. Charleston,

SC: History Press.

Opptow, S. (1990). Moral exclusion and injustice: An introduction. Journal of social issues, 46, 1-20. Doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1990.tb00268.x

Powell, J. A. (2012). Poverty and race through a belongingness lens. St.

Paul, MN: Northwest Area Foundation

Staub, E. (1990). Moral exclusion, personal goal theory, and extreme

destructiveness. Journal of Social Issues, 46, 47– 64. doi:10.1111/j


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