This Viral Video Calls Attention to a Racial Double Standard

June 30th 2017

Kyle Jaeger

If you're a black kid trying to make a buck in the United States, you better have your paperwork in order. That's at least the message a white woman in California tried to send.

A viral video of a woman asking a black child to produce a business license for selling candy outside of a Target last week has raised questions about whether racial double standards were at play.

The video comes days after photos of National Park Police arresting a group of black teens for selling water bottles without a permit circulated on social media.

"She continued to yell at her and scream at her and tell her if she didn't have a permit, that she was going to go to jail, that sheriffs were on their way," Jay Lopez, who witnessed the exchange and bought $80 worth of candy from the kid, told KCBS. "When I walked up, he was crying hysterically."

While there are laws requiring certain permits and licenses for vendors, some have argued that racial prejudice caused these situations to escalate.

There's no way to be certain that's the case, but research has demonstrated that racial prejudices influence how people view black youth.

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This week, researchers at Georgetown Law's Center on Poverty and Inequality released a study that found black girls were viewed as older and "less innocent" than their white peers, for example. The "adultification" of black girls, as the researchers termed it, starts to become apparent when the girls are as young as 5.

"If our public systems, such as schools and the juvenile justice system, view black girls as older and less innocent, they may be targeted for unfair treatment in ways that effectively erase their childhood," Rebecca Epstein, lead author of the study, said in a press release.

This biased perception has been studied before, Epstein added, with researchers noting that "stereotypes of black women, especially the stereotype of the 'angry black woman,' are projected onto black girls, and that black girls' behavior is often interpreted as threatening to adults' authority, which effectively adultifies black girls in harmful ways."

The same phenomenon applies to black boys as well.

As part of a 2014 study published by the American Psychological Association, researchers gave 176 police officers questionnaires meant to assess their "prejudice and unconscious dehumanization of black people." The study revealed that black kids as young as 10 were viewed as older and less innocent than white kids, which the researchers said could contribute to racial disparities in policing.


"Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection," Phillip Atiba Goff, lead author of the study, said in a press release. "Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent."

Disparities in how people evaluate the innocence of black and white children can manifest in any number of ways. It has become perhaps most apparent in fatal police shootings of black children such as Tamir Rice. Eight law enforcement officers involved in the shooting told investigators that Tamir, who was 12 years old, looked much older—anywhere from 16 to 20 years old, BuzzFeed News reported.


But while misperceptions of age and innocence can have deadly consequences for black youth, they can also manifest in more subtle ways, including harassment over business licenses and vendor permits.