On January 20th, the Yale School of Public Health held a ceremony to celebrate Bobbi Wilson, a nine year old Black kid from Caldwell, New Jersey, whose efforts to eradicate the invasive spotted lanternfly was seen as an environmentally progressive gesture on January 20th, according to a news release from the university.

The ceremony also served as an opportunity to recognize Bobbi’s donation of her personal spotted lanternfly collection to Yale’s Peabody museum. “Yale doesn’t normally do anything like this … this is something unique to Bobbi,” said Yale School of Public Health Assistant Professor Ijeoma Opara, who organized the event, in the university’s release. “We wanted to show her bravery and how inspiring she is, and we just want to make sure she continues to feel honored and loved by the Yale community.” In recognition of Bobbi’s donation, Yale’s Peabody Museum named her as the donor scientist on its official database.

While such actions were well-founded and well-deserved, what was less welcoming was the incident that led to such an outcome. On October 22nd, a local neighbor, Gordon Lawshe, a former treasurer of the local branch of the Republican Party, called 911 to report that a “little Black woman” in a hood was spraying sidewalks and trees near his home. “I don’t know what the hell she’s doing, scares me though,” Mr Lawshe said, according to a recording later released by the Caldwell Police Department.

The police eventually arrived. Realizing that they were dealing with an innocent child, they quickly took some questions from her mother and closed out the case. While we can be grateful that the young lady was not a casualty of police violence, the larger issue remains, what made Mr. Lawshe assume that a nine year old child (a petite child at that), was an adult? Moreover, why would a supposedly “little Black woman” cleaning sidewalks and spraying trees, “scare him?” His actions were both troubling and disturbing.

Not all that surprising, the incident focused attention on the “adultification” of young Black children who many experts say are treated more harshly by police than their white counterparts.

Far too often, the justification for this kind of suspicion of Black children is due to the blatant denigration and degradation of Black youngsters. This dehumanization begins with long ingrained stereotypes of black students as troublemakers and thugs in the case of young Black males. As any reasonable person should realize, teenagers, rebellious and/or disrespectful teenagers, are not solely the province of young Black children. Nonetheless, Black children, simply by virtue of their skin color, are viewed as more dangerous, unhinged and more prone to violent behavior.

For example, George Zimmerman conceded at his bail hearing more than a decade ago, that he misjudged Trayvon Martin’s age when he murdered him. “I thought he was a little bit younger than I am,” he said, meaning mid-20s. But Mr. Martin was only 17. Black girls are subject to similar beliefs, according to a study by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality. A group of more than 300 adults viewed black girls as more adult-like, needing less support and protection than white girls, and as knowing more about sex and other adult topics.

I remember when my siblings and I were young children, whether it was for babysitting, helping moving equipment or other tasks, how my parents would have to inform the adults in question, (yes White adults), that we were young children and thus, did not set our own schedules, let alone, dictate the rules of our household! Actually, some of these conversations would end with the grown adult in question apologizing for their actions.

The truth is that Black children deserve to be granted the privilege of being children like any other race of children. We can all be thankful that nine year old Bobbi Wilson was not another statistic due to the result of trigger happy policeman or an overzealous, racially profiling neighbor. May her future be one that is bright and productive.

BlackCommentator.com Guest Commentator, Dr. Elwood Watson, Historian, public speaker, and cultural critic is a professor at East Tennessee State University and author of the recent book, Keepin' It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America (University of Chicago Press), which is available in paperback and on Kindle via Amazon and other major book retailers. Cotnact Dr.Watson and BC.

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