What does being an adult mean? Fundamentally it is a person who is fully developed both mentally and physically. Who has the capacity to understand cause and effect, consequences and can make rational decisions based on the information at hand, or it is for me. Being an adult provides the capacity to be responsible and take ownership of one’s actions. To become an adult, a properly functioning one takes time, and rightfully so. This is reflected in our societal systems be it education, governing laws or social norms. We understand that there is a difference between how a child perceives the world compared to an adult. These are facts that we can’t ignore. To do so would be akin to expecting a houseplant to file taxes and then being annoyed that they couldn’t. We as humans need to grow and learn in order to become adults. But there is a huge disparity of when someone becomes an adult when looking at race and culture. This post is dedicated to the adultification of black people, although it’s a much more serious problem that spans beyond my own experience.
I must have been about 7 years old, my mum and I were in the living room, I was sitting on her lap.
“Why did you adopt me?” I enquired. It had been playing on my mind. Someone at school had mentioned that adoption is often for those that don’t have children.
“You told us to.” She responded.
“But why?” Her answer didn’t quite make sense to me, I’d told my parents and siblings lots of things prior that they ignored – such as buying me a unicorn or at the very least a pony.
“When you were staying with us, you said that you wanted to live with us forever. I wasn’t sure at first but your dad and brothers agreed that it was a great idea. You told us that you were staying with us, so in a way you adopted us!”
I’ve thought back on this moment many times. The answer which essentially says “you wanted it” has so much power in such an innocuous statement. I wanted to stay with them because they had a full fridge of food and I didn’t have to do chores. I was in no way able to comprehend being taken to another country, let alone one filled with (what I believed at the time) cannibals and a completely different culture. The response of “you wanted us to” or “you told us to”, whilst I believe was intended to be empowering, had the opposite effect as it lead me to focus on consequences. That simple response that should have instilled confidence in me as an agent of my own life, had me questioning every decision I ever made. I’d look back and see that everything bad that had happened was because I had wanted something. There was a clear path that my young mind could look back on retrospectively. A path that had all started from me wanting to meet my biological dad- a decision that I regretted because I could see how that moment eternally changed my life- it was the butterfly effect traced back to being 3 (ish) years old to that moment sitting on my white mum’s lap. The world continued to lay heavily on my young shoulders a few years later when my bio-mum told me that I’d have to also be responsible for my bio sisters when I was 8. These examples are my own more extreme one’s cos I like to overshare!
However as a black child, you are not only forced to be aware of others’ reactions, but you have to take them into consideration when it comes to your own natural response. It comes in many forms, from children having to deal with micro-aggressions and micro-inequalities, unconscious bias and the many excuses people make for racism. Every black person (POC) has experienced this, but it’s more sickening at how this has seeped into society and become structural. A black person is given a lot more responsibility whilst facing harsher consequences from a much younger age. Black children are expected to be more “worldly and mature”, a projection that has now also become a survival tactic, that we just have to accept.
But what does racism actually do? What are the consequences for those facing discrimination? Discrimination is one of the largest contributors to both mental and physical health problems. Regardless of age, it leads to depression, stress, emotional distress, CPTSD/PTSD, anxiety, grief and suicidal thoughts. Imagine being a toddler and being told that you won’t be liked simply because of your skin. This is a constant we face throughout our lives both overtly and covertly. These stresses should never be put on children.
I could provide more details because this is such an important subject, but this post concludes my year of highlighting experiences and issues of being black. It’s not just the hugely publicised racial abuse that reaches the media headlines, but the everyday experiences.
Just as I learnt as a child that white people are not cannibals, I have also learnt to accept that all people are human. I understand ingrained prejudice, but how have we failed as a nation to eradicate it. People would rather shoot themselves in the foot for fear of the other. People have been fooled into blaming, often equally disadvantaged groups instead of inequalities created by governing systems. We are losing our trust, hope and belief in each other. Why? Collectively, the majority of us humans are suffering and not sure where to look especially as we lose ever more control. We are angry, frustrated, upset, have been let down and there is very little a lot of people feel they can do about the situation. When faced with powerlessness, it’s common to strike out and punch down whilst at the same time becoming ever more paranoid about losing what little you perceive you have. This is not healthy.
What allowed me to overcome my racist, xenophobic or even general prejudices is by understanding that everyone is human. We are all equal and as such deserve respect. As individuals, people can be very annoying, and so there are enough reasons to dislike them but race or other physical traits are just lazy and ridiculous. There needs to be more mixing of people, increasing diversity for the progressive way leads to more freedom for everyone, not just a few.
I’m not racist, there are no buts. I champion equality for all and the right to live in dignity.