“I am weary of the ways of the world.” – Solange
Many of us have hashtag fatigue and battered spirits, exhausted from screaming we matter in the face of a defiant resolve to prove otherwise. When the latest shooting involving Texas police officer Roy Oliver occurred, and 15-year-old Jordan Edwards face began popping up on the nightly news and social media feeds, I reflected on how children of color are far too often seen and unseen – both as pernicious threats and adults long before their time.
What does it mean for a group of children not to possess innocence in the eyes of society? What kind of emotional toll does this take on a community, mothers and fathers who live with lingering fears of death or assault? These are all questions I wrestle with as a conscious woman of color, who also happens to be a mother. I think of my own 4-year-old daughter, and I feel a pervasive sadness, followed by this ever-present question: How many more brown faces must be memorialized as hashtags before it stops?
“Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.”
Jordan Edwards, like most teenagers, attended a party with his two brothers and friends. His final decision to leave before it got out of hand tragically cost him his life. Initially, police claimed the boys backed up their vehicle instead of pulling away. Yet in the days which followed, they recanted and admitted Edwards and the group were driving away from the house. Still, far too often, the most drastic measure is taken by some police – pull out a weapon and shoot.
While state violence continues to garner attention (as it should), we must also deeply examine societal and institutional biases that view black youth as less innocent and thereby deserving of harsher treatment. Researchers and authors of The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children, highlight an American history replete with hatred for black children, comparing black boys to apes, and thus justifying higher rates of incarceration and other punitive measures. They also note the work of historians studying genocide who see a connection between dehumanization of groups of people and state-sanctioned violence.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Education (collected in 2013 – 2014) from all public school districts, highlighted in Think Progress: “Black preschool children were 3.6 times more likely than white children to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions… Although boys were more likely than girls to be suspended in preschool, black girls also had high rates of suspension.”
The Afro-American Policy Forum, a think tank serving as a bridge between activists, policy- makers and activists issued a groundbreaking report, Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected in 2015 focusing on the myriad ways black girls are dealt with in public school settings, suspended at a rate six times higher than their white counterparts. Certainly there is a definitive link between these early excessive measures and the school-to-prison pipeline, feeding a growing prison industrial complex, which houses or has under its direct control some 2.3 million people “in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories, according to a recent report issued by Prison Policy Initiative.
There is something particularly troubling about denying the innocence of childhood, and justifying these actions by holding on relentlessly to fear, racism and a false sense of superiority. When a society dehumanizes its own citizens, slowly, it is disintegrating from within. I hear writer and thinker James Baldwin reminding us that we cannot change what we refuse to face.
As I come to the end of sharing my thoughts with you all, the sorrow has not lifted about Jordan Edwards, or the countless other boys and girls whose names we may never know, but my resolve to resist and work towards a world of freedom for our children is strengthened.
The words of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, a middleweight boxing champion falsely accused of murder, come back to me, prolific and bathed in a hope I hold dear: “To live in a world where truth matters and justice, however late, really happens, that world would be heaven enough for us all.”
Cover photo– Jordan Edwards|Social Media
By Emelda De Coteau
Emelda De Coteau is a loving wife, mama, creative, and believer seeking God anew in each moment. She is the founder of the inspirational and faith blog, Live In Color. Emelda is a columnist for Beautifully Said Magazine, founder of #WomenCreativesChat, an online community, contributing writer and networking media ambassador for Pretty Entrepreneur, a supportive network for women in business, blogger at Positivity Warriors, and founding member of Black Womyn Rising, a radical organizing collective for Black womyn and girls.
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