The term post-racial can best describe the United States of America when explaining the election of Barack Obama, or it can be used to attempt to silence the outcry of racial injustices by ignoring the charged racial environment. The term post-racial does not describe the attacks that the Obama family has endured since the moment they took office. It does not explain the increased police brutality affecting the population with afro-centric features, and it most certainly does not explain a fourteen-year old Muslim boy being arrested after bringing a clock to school. What exists today in the US is a charged discussion of race. As Donald Trump stands on his podium and attempts to build a wall stopping Mexicans from entering this country, there are dreamers fighting for reform and the right to a better life. There are rallies around the nation with signs saying, “I CAN’T BREATHE,” in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign. As many in the country and world try to ignore the injustices towards the adults of different races, the abuse of children is viewed differently. It is the images of defenseless children abused by an intolerant world that incite the masses to fight for change.
When the first racial tides began to turn in the United States, Harriet Beecher Stowe was credited with helping to start the civil war by President Abraham Lincoln. Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, did little to describe the physical tortures of whippings, mutilation, torture, or starvation. She spent only rare moments explaining the living conditions of plantation slaves. Instead, Stowe focused on the mothers and their babies. The image of runaway slave Eliza holding her son Harry to her chest became Iconic. Stowe is able to affect the white mothers, sitting in the safety of their homes, by providing the thought of having their sweet children ripped from their arms. The character Aunt Chole is hysterical as she considers the possibility of having her children taken from her own arms. “Don’t dey tear der suckin baby right off his mother’s breast, and sell him, and der little children as is crying and holding on her by her clothes, don’t dey pull ‘em off and sells ‘em (Chapter VII)?” Stowe shares many images of children being ripped from their mothers embraces as the result of slave auctions. The will of the mothers is clear by their unwavering grasps. Eliza “even in sleep, her arm encircled him (Harry) with an unrelaxing clasp, as if she could not even then be beguiled of her vigilant hold (Chapter IX).” Stowe gives no shortage of the damages that slavery does to the mother child relationship. She appeals to the women at home, who had no place in a revolution before, but find their sympathies in the mothers of the novel. Haley the slave trader in one instance quickly took a sleeping child away from a mother to sell for a profit, the child was not able to even cry before it was too late. In other cases, mothers killed their own children before subjecting them to the cruelty of slavery. Stowe graphically showed the trauma of the mother child split and demanded that something change.
Stowe focused on the innocence of children. The young angelic character of Eva, with golden hair and blue eyes, found only love in her heart for all humans regardless of race. Stowe speaks of children as a whole having a “childlike simplicity of affection, and facility of forgiveness. In all these they exhibit the highest form of the peculiar Christian life (Chapter XVI).” Stowe makes the argument that all children black and white have these qualities, even the wild character of Topsy finds peace within God’s love. Stowe provides much imagery of children curled up sleeping helpless to the world. She extracts the maternal instincts in her readers for children of all races. Although Stowe does not always make the white and black children equal; she views the black children as in need of help to shed their more wild ways. But for her readers who are not sold on helping save the black children, Stowe creates Eva to be the most delicate and insightful child, explaining the evils of slavery. ‘“When I saw those poor creatures on the boat—some had lost their mothers, and some their husbands, and some mothers cried for their little children—oh, wasn’t that dreadful!—and a great many other times, I’ve felt that I would be glad to die, if my dying could stop all this misery. I would die for them, Tom, if I could,” said the child, earnestly, laying her little thin hand on his (Chapter XXIV).’ Stowe teaches of kindness and acceptance through the cherub-like golden-headed little girl who had the room in her heart to love slaves so deeply. The image of the delicate thin hand of Eva resting on the calloused hand of Tom captures the innocence of children enduring a period of slavery. Stowe captures this emotion, and she uses it to spark enough compassion to start a war.
Frederick Douglass begins his narrative explaining that children are separated from their mothers immediately “to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child (Chapter I).” Without a mother figure, and because many of the fathers are the masters, the children grow up helpless without a protector, stripping them of their innocence early. Although his narrative only glosses over the treatment of children on plantations, Douglass explains that children will only receive one allowance of clothing a year, and they will go naked for months if their clothing turns to shambles before that (Chapter II). He also shares a very graphic scene of viewing his aunt receiving a whipping. Although no physical harm is done to young Frederick, his innocence was stripped away from him after that experience of watching his aunt striped from the waist up and beaten with her hands above her head while the master screamed profanity at her. The innocence of children is something that is passionately fought for, and when the helplessness of slave children is publicized, compassion begins to surface in the masses. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass contributed to the environment that started the civil war. Literature fed the abolitionist movement, and writers like Stowe and Douglass wrote tales that extract tenderness from people ranging from way up north and down into the deep south.
Over a century later, the images of defenseless children have the ability to shock the world. At the beginning of September, a three-year-old Syrian washed up on the Turkish coast face down in the sand. The photograph graced the cover of most major new publications the following morning, and the topic of war-torn Syria became worthy of airtime on all the major networks once the child’s face was paired with the subject. Two weeks later, fourteen-year-old Ahmed Mohamed brought a clock he had constructed to his Texas middle school; he was arrested for a criminal misdemeanor because his teacher suspected the clock was a bomb. Once arrested, Ahmed was not allowed to call his parents and was questioned about both the bomb and his surname. The images of this defenseless preteen being arrested shot through social media at the speed of light, even receiving a response from Barack Obama via Twitter saying, “Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great (Glenza).” Even POTUS felt that he needed to come to the aid of this vulnerable child in the custody of the police. The following day, a sixteen-year-old male was arrested for trespassing by jaywalking in front of a bus route. The officer called in a dozen reinforcements after striking the young male in the face with the baton. The incident was videotaped by a bystander who repeated screamed “It’s a kid,” as the cops put the boy face down on the ground to handcuff him. The video went viral as the quote “It’s just a kid,” was repeated over and over again, and until the cops were under scrutiny for manhandling an unprotected child.
Injustices toward children have the power to incite rage. The vulnerability that exists in a child causes maternal and paternal instincts to come alive when a child is in danger or has been mistreated. Stowe incited a war by exposing the innocence of childhood being stolen by slavery, and Douglass fueled the abolitionist cause when writing of his own journey through childhood as a slave subjected to great fears with only his owners as companions and no real protectors. The news media today took the stories of the Syrian child, the Texas Muslim child, and of the Black child, who had all been mistreated due to the color of their skin and their ethnicities, and refused to let these children be forgotten. Instead they have become images of helpless children who deserve better than their current circumstances, and the world responded fiercely. The images of mistreated children are extremely powerful. The compassion that they are able to bring is of the caliber that changes the world by starting wars to end slavery, by allowing refugees to cross boarders, by applauding young scientific minds, and starting movements to demand that Black Lives Matter. Works Cited
Douglass, Frederick, William Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Ford, Dana. “Stockton Police Arrest Teen for Trespassing, Video Goes Viral.” CNN. Cable News Network, 18 Sept. 2015. Web. 04 Oct. 2015.
Glenza, Jessica, and Nicky Woolf. “Texas Schoolboy Arrested over Clock to Visit Obama as Authorities Defend Action.” The Guardian. N.p., 17 Sept. 2015. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.
Parkinson, Joe, and David George-Cosh. “Image of Drowned Syrian Boy Echoes Around World.” Wall Street Journal. N.p., 3 Sept. 2015. Web. 04 Oct. 2015.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher, and Elizabeth Ammons. Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton, 1994. Print.