Rejected an Adolescence

It is no surprise that we live in an entirely racist society; from Black and Hispanic boys being disrespected in every form by social institutions to academic high-achievement being thought of as something white. If there is anything that Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys tells us it’s that we need to change our policies. We need to change our media. We need to stop segregating and gentrifying. We need to change our society.

Punitive social control is constantly widening the gap between delinquent and non- delinquents in a negative way. Non-delinquents are threatened to stay away from delinquents or they will be implicated but all of the students who were not delinquents in the study (ten out of sixty boys) had family members or peers that are delinquents. With few other alternatives to avoid implication, some boys like J.T. would evade their criminal peers in and out of school (in his case by going to the East Side Youth Program). Delinquents believe that the non-delinquents have sided with the same institutions that had criminalized them in the first place. This creates tension between the two groups and usually leads to non-delinquents being stigmatized as cowards, excluded, and physically abused by acting lawfully. You see, the two groups have different motives that put them at different ends of the spectrum; the delinquent students fight for dignity and are willing to sacrifice their freedom for it, while non-delinquent students only fight for their freedom because they know the damaging effect criminalization will have on the rest of their lives. It’s not that one only wants dignity and the other only wants freedom; both want their dignity and freedom but for the Black and Hispanic boys in this study can only choose one of the above. Even though the non-delinquent boys overcompensated to prove they were “acting lawful” they are still treated as criminals, denied their rights, and harassed by the police, so no matter how clean their record is they are still treated as if they were delinquents. What the boys that have already become victims of criminalization fail to see is that the non-delinquents are not the enemy for complying with the police; it is the racist institutions that they should be blaming. No one should have to choose between their dignity and freedom, no one should have to be isolated from their friends and family so as not to be suspected of a felony, and no one should have to live in fear of random police harassment due to the color of their skin. These harsh policing methods are doing nothing but causing a war between the two groups.

It is not that low-achieving students have hatred towards high-achieving students; it’s that they are “acting white”. Minorities who learn successfully in school are considered to have given up acting like a minority person and has “become acculturated into the white American frame of reference”. Racism is so prevalent in this society, argues Fordham and Ogbu, that Black Americans are convinced that only White people are academically successful. In a study, they found that while White students grades increased so did their popularity, but when Black and Latino student’s grades increased their popularity decreased. The individuals that make the low-achieving students like they are failures and/ or deviants are white and the peers that are “acting white” appear to be embracing punitive social control and going against their community. By becoming high-achievers, the delinquent boys thought that they had labeled them as criminals as the system did (becoming part of the institution that criminalizes them) not that the non-delinquents were working tirelessly to be treated humanely by the system. A quote from Punished sums up the problem: “Children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.” Our society has led us to believe that White students are meant to be more intelligent but that message is just meant to oppress minorities. The truth is that more White students have access to a quality education but if minorities were presented with the same opportunities and the same academic expectations then everyone could thrive. In the article ‘If segregation ended 60 years ago, how come it’s getting worse?’ compared to 1980, Massachusetts now has seven times more highly segregated schools; meaning more than ninety percent of the population is non-white. In these school eighty-five percent of the students come from low-income areas. It is no wonder that students think it is a White person thing to be academically high-achievers when they are the ones who are able to have the quality education every person deserves and are the ones that benefit most from the way our society’s structured.

The book talks about changing our policies so that it allows for healthy adolescent development. We do need to change our policies along with so many other things. White students have multiple opportunities to make mistakes without repercussions while minority students seem to be watched over until they make a single mistake then are convicted of a felony and their lives are ruined. If the book is right about adolescence being about making mistakes and learning from them, then aren’t we refusing Black and Hispanic boys their adolescence?

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