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Ouzo Bay and Black children treated as adults | COMMENTARY

Jeremey Williams protests outside of Ouzo Bay a day after a viral video that showed a Black family being refused service by management.
Jeremey Williams protests outside of Ouzo Bay a day after a viral video that showed a Black family being refused service by management. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

My phone alerts me that I have a text. It is my family group text. The link that was sent was a video of a Black mother from my hometown of Baltimore discussing with the white manager at the restaurant Ouzo Bay why her son was not allowed to eat there. Because her son was wearing athletic wear, which is not allowed in the restaurant, the manager said. The Black mother went on to tell the white manager, in a conversation she recorded on video, that a white boy, around the same age as her son, was wearing similar athletic attire and allowed to eat in the restaurant.

Atlas Restaurant Group, owners of Ouzo Bay sent out a formal apology, fired two managers and revised the dress code policy so that children 12 years old and younger who are accompanied by an adult will not be subject to a dress code at Atlas properties, among other changes. The company says it’s also in the process of forming a Corporate Social Responsibility Advisory Board, though we don’t yet know what it will look like. Let’s hope it gives Atlas an education on a particular kind of racism: the adultification of Black children.

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Adultification can take two forms, according to Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood, a report on the adultification of Black girls. The first form involves a process of socialization in which children function at a more mature developmental stage because of situational context and necessity especially in low resource community environments.

The second form of adultification involves a social or cultural stereotype that is based on how adults perceive children in the absence of knowledge of children’s behaviors and verbalizations, which can be based on race, according to the report. In other words, the second form of adultification is looking at children as if they are older or mature based on cultural or racial biases and stereotypes, and not according to children’s behaviors or expressions.

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To me, it appeared as if the manager at Ouzo Bay did not see the young Black boy as a boy, but as someone who was older and mature, based on racial biases and stereotypes. That would explain why the dress code was subjected to the Black boy. The white boy likely was seen as just that — a boy — so no dress code was enforced.

Such adultification rips away the presumption of innocence of a child. Instead, adultification allows the perception that a child is adult-like and can bear the physical, social and mental responsibilities of an adult. Most importantly, the second form of adultification says that a child must adhere to the same consequences of an adult. In this scenario, the consequence of not being allowed to eat in the restaurant was rendered to the Black boy due to a dress code policy that is obviously put in place for adults.

In the Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood study, research shows that Black boys are more likely than their white peers to be misperceived as older, viewed as guilty of suspected crimes, and face police violence if accused of a crime. The research also shows that Black girls are perceived to need less nurturing, less protection, supported less yet know more about adult topics, sex and independence compared to white girls of the same age.

Corporations have to go beyond sending out apologies and social media posts saying they support Black lives. Corporations have a social responsibility to educate themselves and employees on issues such as racial stereotypes and adultification. Corporations need to hire Black equity leaders to dismantle the perceptions that have been embedded in American society about Black people.

The Black equity teams will teach the corporation about terms such as adultification and how the perception of Black children as anything other than children is dehumanization. In further education and review of studies based on adultification and racial stereotypes, Black equity teams will identify the link between adultification and criminalization of Black and brown kids. This link will further provide the connection of the systemic racism in America and the necessity of criminal justice reform for Black Americans.

Sara Allie (thesaraallie@gmail.com) is a Baltimore teacher and writer. When she is not teaching, she is traveling the world and freelance writing.

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