The “Child” Which is Never Black
The [white] Child: Blackness, Queerness, and Reproductive Futurism
Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, Black childhood, and Narratives
When the 911 call that, in all it’s sprawling consequences and effects, ended with a Cleveland police officer named Timothy Loehmann murdering the, at the time, 12 year old Tamir Rice was made, the caller commented that Tamir Rice was “probably a juvenile, you know?”
When the call was processed by a dispatcher, this information, alongside comments that the toy gun Tamir was playing with was probably fake, were omitted. As a result, the call was categorized as a Code 1, the highest possible priority.
When the murder was called in by the police officers at the scene, it was done so with the statements “shots fired, male down, um, black male, maybe 20.”
Tamir was 12 at the time.
Tamir was later described by Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association president Steve Loomis as “menacing. He’s 5-foot-7, 191 pounds. He wasn’t that little kid you’re seeing in pictures. He’s a 12-year-old in an adult body.”
This language of adultification, for lack of a better term, is not unique to Tamir Rice. Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who murdered Mike Brown in 2014 told a grand jury that he, a 6-foot-4, 210 pound, 28 year old at the time, that he “felt like a 5 year old holding onto Hulk Hogan”
While Wilson uses this as a claim about how large Mike Brown felt, it’s noteworthy to examine the fact that the claim is articulated through the language of age. Wilson is, through his own statements, rendered the scared, white child threatened by the towering, Black, adult of Mike Brown.
Despite the fact that Mike Brown was only 18, Wilson being a whole decade older than Mike Brown, it is Wilson who becomes the child and Mike Brown is cast in the role of being adult, all too adult.
While it is interesting to see the realistic and practical applications and implications of how Black childhood is denied, I feel Stacey Patton has already done a better job than what I can potentially offer in their Washington Post article “In America, Black children don’t get to be children,” so I shall direct you to refer to that article for such an analysis.
Rather, I wish to examine the implications of, not the phenomena of a Black child not being seen as a child, but the phenomena of a Black child not being seen as a representation of the Child.
The Child, with a capital C
I am not speaking of actual historical conceptualizations of children, but the concept of the symbol of the ‘Child’, as introduced by Lee Edelman in his book No Future. For Edelman, the Child is “ the perpetual horizon of every acknowledged politics, the fantasmatic beneficiary of every political intervention.” In other words, the Child is “ the emblem of futurity’’s unquestioned value”. Edelman further explains that “ the Child invariably shapes the logic within which the political itself must be thought. That logic compels us, to the extent that we would register as politically responsible, to submit to th framing of political debate — and, indeed, of the political field — as defined by the terms of … reproductive futurism”.
This reproductive futurism, or at least its logic, is somewhat easire understood when Edelman claims its “locus classicus is Whitney Houston’s rendition of the secular hymn, “I believe that children are our future”, a hymn we might as well make our national anthem and be done with it.”
In short, Edelman claims that all political discourse must appeal to a future, and that this future is represented and facilitated by the symbol of the Child.
The Child “ serves to regulate political discourse — to prescribe what will count as political discourse — by compelling such discourse to accede in advance to the reality of a collective future whose figurative status we are never permitted to acknowledge or address.”
While Edelman uses these concepts in an analysis of the Queer, I find his theory an interesting framework to examine the narratives surrounding Tamir Rice and Mike Brown, Black childhood and Black Childhood, and Blackness.
An examination of the rhetoric surrounding the murders of Tamir Rice and Mike Brown illustrate a simple fact, the symbol of the Child must also be understood as being constructed racially. There is not a universal Child which can be applied regardless of race, there is a white Child which facilitates political discourse racially as anti-black as it does anti-Queer. What Tamir Rice and Mike Brown illustrate is that Black children are not seen as manifestations of the Child and therefore there is no Black Child or as follows, no Black Childhood.
Thus, the Black body, we can see, is located within a temporality in which Childhood is denied -and as the Child in its representation of the future is a manifestation of futurality- and in turn Black futures are also denied.
This application of Edelman’s theories has interesting implications for analysis of Blackness alongside Queerness and any combination of the two (as it can hardly be said that Blackness and Queerness are mutually exclusive). Namely, this engaging of aforementioned narratives show us that Blackness and Queerness share a geography of being located outside the realm of reproductive futurism. Queerness is placed outside this realm due to its non-reproductiveness, thus being able to reproduce the future through reproduction. Blackness is placed in this same geography due to the temporality of Black bodies which denies Childhood, and therefore denies the future.
It is no coincidence that in a 2013 report by the CIR it came to light that there had been dozens of cases of forced sterilization of female inmates in California, especially when you consider the abnormally high arrest rate of Black people and the connection between the prison industrial complex and anti-Blackness. Nor is it a coincidence that records of forced sterilization of North Carolina show that 65% of sterilization procedures were performed on Black Women while only 25% of the female population of North Carolina is Black.
These situations can be seen as measures to remove the reproductive capabilities of Black bodies, further excluding them from subject positions within the discourse of reproductive futurism.
Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in the case of the Relf sisters. Mary Alice and Minnie Lee Relf, who were 12 and 14 respectively at the time, were both forcefully sterilized in Alabama in 1973, the procedure being paid by federal funds. The case represents both a denial of Black children as being forms of manifestation of the symbolic Child, but also further pushes them further away from subject positions by rendering them unable to reproduce and thus actualize the future. Thus, the Relf sisters’ case demonstrates a denial of past and origin, but also future. It demonstrates that Black bodies are seen as being neither fit to be included as subjects within the political discourse of reproductive futurism, nor fit to actualize a future within the aforementioned discourse.
While incomplete, I believe this analysis holds important implications. The first is that of a theoretical basis for solidarity. An engagement of racial dynamics with queer theory via Edelman’s theory allows us to formulate a unified theoretical front in which racial and queer politics converge further than subject positions which are merely both Black and Queer, and in doing so, create a political counter-discourse which can be further referenced upon to racialize queer examinations and politics while queering racial analysis and politics. Such a position allows for a geography in which examinations of the Black, the Queer, and the Black Queer body outside of the political discourse of reproductive futurism and the Child become possible.
Also by connecting Edelman’s theory to a racial analysis, it opens the doors to be utilized as a tool to examine not only Black, but also other racialized bodies which opens a realm of possibility such as utilizing Edelman’s theory as a tool in, for example, postcolonial studies and analysis.