Talk to anybody about children, and you’ll soon discover that people hold to some general truths about how children should be raised and treated. Almost everyone will say that children must be cherished and loved and cared for, and that they need to live with those who love them and see them in their innocence and fragility. It’s hard for anyone to see a child in need and not want to respond with something, whether it is the food that they hunger for or to be embraced when they’re afraid or hurt or simply need to be held.
If you nodded your head in reading this, then you’re right there among most adults who hold these values that we should treat children with care. And as we care for them, we want them to learn to be good and kind and brave, to learn to share and give, to trust in good people and treat people with respect.
Somehow in our assertions that we want to raise our children to be good and kind and honest, there is an almost uncanny tendency within the socially dominant class in America (the class I belong to, which is white people) to produce adults with such broken souls that we have set up and still maintain a social system that—without any other intervention—guarantees the cruelest and most violent outcomes for those who are the historical targets of oppression and harm. And as part of that system of directed cruelty is the associated denial of any such harm and the dismissal of any such news about such harm with claims amounting to “if only they had made better choices,” as if the outcome of the system towards cruelty is not working exactly as designed
As odd as that the pairing might seem—the deliberate creation of a cruel system & the denial of the cruelty with the common claims of wanting children to be good and kind and just—I think that the desire for raising good people according to our own desires for success demands the blindness to the kind of America that we live in.
Were we to see that our “kindness” is not kind, that our “love” is not “love,” that our “good” is actually the deepest wickedness of the human heart, we might not be able to function as people enjoying the fruit of a dominant, confident, ruling class. We could not continue to live as we live if we were to see the results that our choices and beliefs have upon the people around us who are seen in the eyes of God as the Beloved Community. We believe every day that America is good and kind and just, and every day the circumstances around us belie that belief.
Which is why we in the dominant class spend so much time, so much of our energy, denying what is plain to everyone who sees our actions and hears our words: we have developed a carceral state designed for the immiseration of those who are by necessity oppressed for our benefit. There is no reason for the inhumane treatment of those who are clearly human and equal, bearing the same thumbprint of God upon their souls. Yet, we have built that system and we are comfortable with its intent and outcomes.
But there is just enough of that thumbprint still visible on our own souls to make us feel guilty about our actions. And because of the fear of losing our place of comfort and priority, because of the very real fear of being held accountable for our actions and our indifference, we who are elevated in our society cannot admit to what it is that we’re doing and allowing and even embracing. We have to call good, evil and evil, good if we are going to have any sense of authority when talking about our most sacred values of liberty and justice for all. We could not endure the realization that what we are doing is moral insanity that will bring to us the harshest judgment in the eyes of God.
The seeds we plant in our children, the seeds we call being good and kind and fair, include with them the values of denial and cruelty and indifference. We will continue to harvest the ugly fruits from this planting, generation after generation, until we open our eyes to the truth that we will always reap what we sow, and there is a point where we will discover that we have sown to the wind and reap the whirlwind.
If we want a better America, a different America, a just America, an America that is indeed great because it is good, we have to start with opening our eyes to the seeds that we are planting. May the infinitely wise and just God so move on us to throw out the seeds inherited from our past and seek to plant a new crop of justice, fairness, kindness, equity, freedom, and love. And may we become the people who in community demand the highest respect and love for each other so that we, our children, and our children’s children can live in safety and prosperity.
We have it in ourselves to choose justice, to do mercy, to walk humbly. It is time to plant the better seeds that guarantee a better harvest of love and acceptance and community.
By Stephen Matlock