My three granddaughters are, respectively, age 12, 5 and 3. They are also Black and beautiful. So I link that to what I’m about to write; something personal, very personal.
You see, I’m sad to report that we have still another addition to the umpteenth volume of our “You can’t make this stuff up folks” collection, our chronicles of the asinine. Our latest entry comes from Caldwell, New Jersey courtesy of some “racially nearsighted” dude by the name of Gordon Lawshe.
Now Bobbi Wilson (pictured above), is a nine-year-old from Caldwell who worked to eradicate spotted lanternflies in her neighborhood. In case you did not know, spotted lanternflies are invasive insects that can hurt trees and ruin crops. Last year scientists and state authorities encouraged people to kill the bugs whenever they’re found. So Miss Wilson, a budding scientist, was just doing her civic duty.
But last October, Lawshe called 911 to report that a “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,” Lawshe said.
Huh? “Black woman in a hood!” Really Lawshe? Thank God she didn’t meet the same fate as another young Black person “in a hood,” one Trayvon Martin.
Alright readers, take another look at Bobbi and ask yourself what on earth could be so scary about a nine-year-old girl, probably less that a hundred pounds soaking wet, that makes this grown man dial 911?
Okay, what’s really going on here?
Well, one possibility is that Mr. Lawshe has terribly bad eyesight or has magnifying lens that make him see things way larger than what they actually are. But I’ll rule out those two as likelihoods.
Another possibility is that what’s playing out here is “adultification bias,” a form of racial prejudice where children, typically Black children, are treated as being more mature than they actually are; the bigger the blacker, the more threatening.
Studies have found that Black children are more susceptible to discipline from educators. Look no further than the racial disparities in how discipline is administered in just about every school. That’s not speculation, that’s fact.
A study by Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Law in 2017 includes one of the first mentions of “adultification bias,” referring to adults’ perception that Black children are more mature than their white peers. Therefore, stereotypes of the angry Black man and the angry Black woman affect how the behaviors of Black children are perceived and may be part of the reason why adultification bias is so prevalent with Black children. Adultification bias may be perpetuated by stereotypes of African Americans, such as the jezebel, sapphire, and mammy stereotypes.
Since these stereotypes represent the opposite standards of femininity and respect, Black girls and women are seen as unfeminine and thus disrespectful, mature and loud. Thus, it’s conceivable that Lawshe felt threatened by this nine-year-old “Black woman.”
Comments from studies have described Black girls as “acting like animals and have to be tamed.” These comments coincide with the historical comparison of Black people to animals, which may worsen adultification bias towards Black children when they misbehave in front of authority figures.
Typically Black boys tend to be stereotyped as criminals, hypermasculine and described as aggressive or rough. As an example of “self-fulfilling prophecy,” Black boys perceived as mature beyond their years early on because of stereotypes might actually fuel their misbehavior and perpetuate their adultification.
But thankfully last month, in response, the Yale School of Public Health held a ceremony to celebrate Bobbi Wilson. It served as an opportunity to recognize Wilson’s donation of her personal spotted lanternfly collection to Yale’s Peabody Museum, where she is now listed as the donor scientist on its official database.
Known as “Bobbi Wonder” by her family and friends, last month she visited the university where a label bearing her name on one of the lanternfly specimens will sit permanently in Yale’s Peabody Museum.
“Yale doesn’t normally do anything like this; this is something unique to Bobbi,” said Ijeoma Opara, an assistant professor at School of Public Health.
“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.”
Now in case you missed it, during his recent State of the Union address, President Joe Biden eloquently described what it’s like for Black parents to have to have “the talk” with their offspring about what to do and not do in encounters with law enforcement. Sadly, we now have to teach them what to do when they inevitably encounter the likes of the Lawshe of this world who will see them way larger and more threatening than they actually are.
So, here’s the deal Lawshe and your ilk. I’m steadfastly unwilling to cut you any slack or listen to your flimsy excuses. Although I’m not responsible for your ignorance, I am responsible for calling it out when it raises its ugly head. I owe young Bobbi Wilson and my three beautiful Black granddaughters at least that much.
Yes, consider yours truly an “angry Black grandpa!”
© Terry Howard is an award-winning speaker, writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, Blackmarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, and third place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.