By Dr. Stacey Patton
The sexual abuse of a child, irrespective of gender, class background or race, is no doubt one of the most heinous crimes. But there’s no denying that the public’s outrage is especially charged when the perpetrator and victim are of a different race.
Unconfirmed reports allege that former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky chose black boys as his primary victims. The mainstream media’s use of the coded terms “underprivileged” and “at-risk” to describe the victims has rightly raised suspicions among black observers. A parent of one of the boys has said that Sandusky’s victims were “blacks about 10-12 and had a tall slim muscular build.”
What if Sandusky’s victims are in fact black? Did race add a layer of vulnerability for his victims, as some observers have suggested? Did the race of the alleged victims lead Penn State officials to turn a blind eye to a serial child rapist? Will race determine whether the judicial system will allow the accused pedophile to walk free or pay for his alleged crimes?
While some say that the race of the victims involved in the Penn State sex abuse scandal does not matter, others like Syracuse University professor Boyce Watkins believe that blacks have good reason to be concerned and skeptical. The problem, Watkins and others have asserted, is much bigger than the Penn State scandal: we live in a society where black children are exempted from the category of innocence, have no intrinsic social value, and are unworthy of protection. Watkins writes:
“When Black kids go missing, the media almost never notices. When Black children are being shot in “the hood,” nobody cares. Black men are incarcerated at holocaust proportions, but few politicians show even a hint of concern. In light of these realities, it’s not entirely inconceivable that Sandusky chose his targets for the same reason that many serial killers murder prostitutes with no family . . . it’s easy to get away with the unthinkable when you go after the victim that no one cares about.”
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, co-host of the Al Sharpton Show, agrees. “Put bluntly, if Penn State officials kept their yaps shut for years in the face of open knowledge of and strong suspicions of the child rapes and the victims were young black males, then the last dot connected is the charge that black lives are routinely devalued when it comes to officials taking action to protect them,” Hutchinson asserts. He adds, “This charge has repeatedly been leveled in serial murders, inner city gang carnage, and child service agencies that ignore or downplay repeated reports of abuse when the victims and the abused are black.”
I am inclined to agree with Watkins, Hutchinson and others who have raise these very important points about the degradation of black childhood in America. But I want people to consider something else . . .
While the African-American community should rightly be concerned about Sandusky’s alleged fetish for black boys, his crimes against them, and the institutional response, this scandal ought to prompt black America to rally around its children. How can we expect the larger society to value and protect black children from sexual abuse, genocidal violence and other hidden holocausts when too many among us advocate and even celebrate physically and mentally beating down our children?
Just this week CNN published a report showing that African Americans are most likely to use switches, belts, shoes and other objects to beat children. Last week I participated in a conversation on NPR’s “Tell Me More” with Michel Martin and the ‘Mocha Moms’ about the so-called thin line between physical discipline and abuse. One of the moms boisterously argued that it is okay to whip children with switches and belts and to even knock her 18-year-old child upside the head. You have to beat them with love, she said. I’m not making this up. You can listen to the conversation for yourself here.
There’s no denying that black children have remained trapped in the logic of race and devaluation since the birth of William Tucker in 1624, the first black child born in the American colonies. In the American imagination the black child remains the antithesis of the white child: unhealthy, uneducable, deviant, criminal, hypersexual, dangerous, and unworthy of protection.
But when so many black people beat the bodies and murder the souls of our children we shouldn’t be so surprised when a predator, like Jerry Sandusky, seizes the opportunity prey on our youth. We shouldn’t be surprised when an institution like Penn State looks the other way and when a philanthropic organization like The Second Mile Foundation uses the plight of poor black children to raise millions while knowingly or unknowingly becoming complicit in pimping out those same children.
Until we do better by our children, no one else will.