Abstract: For Those Who Love Black Children: A Conceptualization of the Radical and Liberatory Possibilities of Play for Black Children (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

579P For Those Who Love Black Children: A Conceptualization of the Radical and Liberatory Possibilities of Play for Black Children

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Demond Hill, MA, Ph.D. Student, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Background and Purpose: Play is essential to all children’s development and learning, especially between birth and fourteen years of age, through its linkages to the positive development of social, emotional, cognitive, and linguistic skills. A growing body of literature has begun to explicate the unique and violent constraints on play for Black children. Rooted in anti-Blackness studies, this scholarship illuminates how Black children are characterized as unworthy of play, protection during play, and being considered playful in key ecological settings. Black children’s play, playfulness, and playful expressions are routinely hyper-sexualized, adultified, and dehumanized through the enforcement of oppressive anti-Black policies, police harassment and brutality, and other forms of violence. Given evidence of the developmental benefits of play as well as mounting evidence of constraints on Black children's play, its specific manifestations and the factors which shape it remain poorly misunderstood. The current study integrates and builds on prior scholarship to develop a conceptual framework, Black Children’s Play, that illuminates how play not only promotes traditional developmental competences but further underscores how play for Black children potentiates a radical and liberatory project that promotes radical healing, critical consciousness, and youth activism.

Methods: This study reports results from an integrative narrative review of three mutual informative, but often siloed, literatures to develop the conceptual framework. It, first, provides an overview of play scholarship, highlighting how play is important to the development of all children, and the ways in which play is conceptualized. Second, it provides an overview of literature regarding play and anti-Blackness, highlighting the multifaceted historical and contemporary relationship between Black children, play, and anti-Black violence. Finally, it draws on literature from the Black Radical Tradition, to discuss the ways in which play for Black children must be fundamentally understood as a radical and liberatory project.

Results: The resultant conceptual framework, Black Children’s Play, acknowledges how Black children utilize play in order to resist, reclaim, and restore environments around them. This framing also suggests that this play is best understood through three forms—play styles, experiences, and spaces—in order to holistically understand how play for Black children is essential to three developmental elements—radical healing, critical consciousness, and youth activism—amidst anti-Black violence. We will conclude this article discussing and exploring the utility of Black Children’s Play and the possibilities that it can offer Black children as well as practitioners, parents, and the greater community.

Conclusion: By attending to Black children’s play styles, experiences, and spaces, this conceptual framework offers new possibilities for not only interrupting anti-Black violence in both research and practice, but also paving the way to take up opportunities to support and co-construct spaces for Black children’s play that have potential to usher in a more liberatory world.