Originally Posted: June 19, 2019
The real reason we’re locking children in cages
We don’t think nonwhite children deserve the same protections as “innocent” white ones.
Renfro is a postdoctoral fellow at Southern Methodist University, and beginning in August 2018, he will be a Dean’s Postdoctoral Scholar in the department of history at Florida State University.
Americans are horrified by images and stories coming from the southern border. The U.S. government is brutalizing children and families — keeping children in cages, separated from their parents — purportedly in the name of border security. As outrage has increased, the spotlight has heated up, spurring politicians to speak out and contemplate action.
As shocking and aberrant as this saga might seem — one doctor who surveyed conditions at a shelter for migrant children insisted that “America is better than this” — it fits within the long American tradition of treating children differently based on their race. White children are considered innocent, in need of protection, while children of color are cast as inhuman or villainous, deserving punishment and rough treatment. Until we recognize and eliminate this unequal paradigm, we’ll continue to witness the horrifying mistreatment of nonwhite children.
The vulnerability and innocence of white children has been a cultural staple since the 19th century. Vulnerable white children played a starring role in popular (and embellished) Indian captivity narratives, which vilified Native Americans while rendering their captives virtuous. As the 19th century progressed, captivity narratives remained popular, but changed to focus on stories about ransom kidnappings, often featuring photogenic white children such as 4-year-old Charley Ross in sensational, serialized crime stories. READ MORE