Perhaps one of the greatest injustices that have been inflicted on Black people in America is that white people have already decided what the Black child’s story will be before the Black child leaves the womb. In the gaze of white eyes, Black children are born disfigured and disabled by a system that is structured to ensure it.
I have written before about “The Slave Bible,” a highly censured selection of Scriptures introduced to enslaved communities to convert Black souls to white Christianity, a religion that promised mansions in heaven in exchange for obedience and compliance on earth. If the attempt to disfigure the gospel were not enough, the white supremacist translation also reinforced the literary archetype of complex white heroes and simplistic dark villains in the dominant narrative.
Perhaps as great an injustice, but imposed with varying degrees of cognizant motivation, is that white children are taught that this archetype is true. In this way, both Black children and white children suffer the trauma of dehumanization.
From the earliest bedtime stories, white children are taught that their white exceptionalism and racial identity as complex heroes justify and exempt their acts of injustice against Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Asian peers; and that eventually, all other cultural expressions will either capitulate or assimilate to white intelligence, ingenuity, and expressions of dominance.
On the other hand, Black children, and other children of color suffer the psychological lynching of their self-actualization before they are even born. Not only have generations of Black parents been exposed to a false, but dominant narrative of white exceptionalism from every possible platform: from pulpit to politics to theater to radio to books to billboard marketing and beyond, whether implicitly or explicitly, the messaging has always been the same: that there are limits to the pursuit of Black excellence and happiness, and that those limits will be defined by white permissions.
This is society’s slow and relentless lynching of the Black child’s soul.
Black children learn early on that they are society’s designated sidekick, comic relief, or token Black friend. If they are seen to succeed or excel, the narrative requires that they expend twice the effort and express twice the gratitude. If the Black child makes a mistake or succumbs to a negative emotion, the narrative dictates that they have failed the entire Black community, that they owe the world a public apology, and will face catastrophic consequences regardless. The narrative of Blackness never exists for the quality of being in and of itself. The Black Story is always weighed and measured against the angst of white fragility. It must always bear the burden of raising the entire Black community. This is society’s slow and relentless lynching of the Black child’s soul.
Deep in their psyche, Black children come to understand that the centering of the Black Story in any arena the white narrative has dominated, whether it be on the shelves of the local library, or spoken in the classroom in the month of February, is viewed by the white community as either a charitable privilege, earned acquiescence, or potential threat, all of which can be removed at a whim, as we have seen in recent legislative efforts to ban books that critique the incomplete history of America or affirm Black identity and excellence, and re-center white supremacy in public education. Always, Black children are the pawns of white society’s rage against their own fragility. Generations of white perpetrator trauma are inflicted on the souls of Black children through tantrumonious acts of aggression.
The souls of Black children, inasmuch as their biological DNA, bear the marks of generations of the psychological lynching of Black identity through the whitewashing, suppression, and attempted silencing of Black Story. It is cruelly ironic that even as the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, a law named after a fourteen-year-old boy was falsely accused and lynched by a local mob in 1955 in Mississippi, has finally been signed into law (after 122 years of attempts to pass antilynching legislation), that so many states have chosen to lynch the identity of Black children blatantly and aggressively in the public square. We cannot, we must not trade one form of lynching for another. We cannot be silent. We must speak out. Lynching, in all of its forms and expressions, must end.
By Naphtali Renshaw