It’s a lesson often learned at a young age, as early as three or four years old: don’t snitch.
The first time people remember hearing the term is often from siblings, neighborhood friends, or classmates.
The Witness Project’s exploration of the concept of snitching continues with our collaborator Edward “Phatty” Banks, founder of Reading R.A.M.M., by asking when people first started to learn about snitching.
In our second installment, Banks asks: “What age were you when you first learned about snitching.”
If you missed it, go back and watch our first installment: “What is snitching?”
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At young ages, many people refer to “tattling,” which according to psychologists is a normal developmental thing for kids to do – just ask a preschool teacher.
Children often tattle to get a response from an adult because they don’t have the ability to solve a problem on their own, according to Psychology Today. It’s how they think they can get justice if they’ve been wronged. But as they get older – and savvier – kids sometimes tattle to make themselves look better or to deflect blame from their own behavior.
The term snitching first emerged in popular culture in the 1990s and early 2000s, often in rap lyrics later on T-shirts. Snitching in this context was directly linked to a code of silence and loyalty, and to the idea that police and other authorities were not to be trusted. The distrust of police, especially in Black communities, goes back much further than that, though. We’ll touch more on that in future stories.
Over the following decades, people started using the terms “snitching” and “tattling” more interchangeably.