TThis post is part of a year-long series. If my work is helpful for you, consider a contribution through Venmo to support this crucial work of unlearning racial bias.
There exists a shared understanding within American culture that girls immediately become women once they begin to look and act “grown.” This same shared agreement holds that girls who look and act grown should be treated as if they are.
Especially if they are black.
Even though we are grown-ups who should know better, particularly in light of the knuckleheads we know good and well we used to be. Even though we have at least cursory knowledge that adolescent brains don’t develop in lock-step with adolescent bodies.
Our society seems to have deemed it necessary to punish teens for looking like adults by sentencing them – even if only in the court of public opinion – like adults.
In Monday’s not Coming, readers unravel the mystery of the title character’s sudden disappearance from her best friend Claudia’s life. We learn the truth as Claudia our narrator does, in fits and starts, twists and turns, that ultimately lead us to the various reasons why Claudia cannot find Monday.
In Allegedly, Mary takes center stage as a tragically misunderstood teen living in a group home after having been accused of an unthinkable crime. As Mary seeks to clear her name, hold on to the fraying edges of a romantic relationship once she realizes she is pregnant, and make sense of her estranged relationship with her emotionally aloof mother, readers become enmeshed in this tangled tale.
In Grown, Enchanted is a teen who feels otherized at her predominantly white school and shows a talent for singing. After she is spotted one night by a famous male singer, she is charmed into a life she could never have imagined, in which she is cut off from her family, neglected, and abused.
In each novel, Jackson dissects horrific, real-life situations our children undoubtedly see and hear in news stories. She brings a human eye to unimaginable real-life cases constructing these fictional teens, their environments, and their casts of supporting characters. Through Jackson’s work, we are offered the opportunity to think in three dimensions instead of one about whom we believe teenagers to be, what we think they are capable of doing, and how much we think they can understand.
Her work challenges us to push past culturally accepted perceptions of teens as irredeemable, impulse-driven wannabe adults, to embrace them as whole human beings who are still very much in the process of learning and growing.
As you peruse these brief synopses and decide which titles to read, I hope you’ll keep these reflective questions in mind:
- When in your life have you treated a black child as “grown” without questioning exactly how old they were?
- How have your assumptions about the ages of black children you don’t know colored your interactions with them? Made you feel threatened when no apparent threat was present?
- How many times have you perceived as disproportionately insubordinate or obstinate behavior from a black teen that you would not perceive in the same way from a nonblack teen?
- What anxiety and shortness of breath upon seeing a black teen walk near you have you felt and then excused away as having nothing to do with race in order to assuage your guilt?
Keep working at it, y’all. Pursuing peace is a process rather than a singular destination at which we can arrive whenever we choose. Come back next time, for another piece to help us build a more peaceful world.