Innocence or Ignorance?

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Often, even among people who consider themselves socially aware, many question how early is too early to expose children to the social reality of the spaces that they occupy. Many argue that children should be allowed to be innocent as long as possible, functioning under the notion that childhood and innocence are innately intertwined. However, I contend that this is problematic because there is never a period of life in which exceptionalism is permissible, despite any account of age, condition or situation.

I think that this is a problem that needs to be addressed, quite frankly, because black children (and other children of color) are forced to be socially aware if they occupy heteronormative white spaces. On the contrary, white children are allowed to treat the world as their playground, ignorant of their identity and the consequences of identifying with it or phenotypically representing it.

I contend that whether someone is 10 years old or 100 years old, if they are going to occupy a space in which interpersonal relations are required (such as school, work, etc.) they have a responsibility to be socially aware out of respect for the other people they will be encountering. If this means exposing a 10 year old child to the entity of white man’s guilt, then so be it.

For all those that would argue that this is unfair, that the children do not ask for it, it is too early, etc. I encourage you take a second to think if it is fair that black children (and other children of color) do not get those same privileges. There have been many studies that prove that children of color encounter racism as early as kindergarten, and internalize that racism such that they learn to hate blackness, and instead praise whiteness. This is even materialized in the classic doll study in which black children associated black dolls with bad, ugly, mean, etc and the white dolls as good and pretty. Is it fair that young black children have to navigate their earliest form of identity development in a way that prompts them to hate themselves?

With that being said, I stand firm in my opinion that if black children are not allowed to be innocent and sheltered, neither should white children. I believe that if white children were educated about the function and facets of whiteness the same way that black kids are forced to be, then it would consequently diminish the effects of the unintentional, covert and innocent racism at early ages that encourages black children to hate themselves.