Protecting Black children should never mean re-injuring them, owning them, or denying their sexual autonomy
If children were not determined to be property, these acts would clearly constitute a crime.
by Donnie Moreland
This essay contains discussions of domestic violence and sexual assault
Ruminations of my daughter’s hypothetical death play on repeat, ever since her birth. I’ve accepted them as inescapable conditions of parenthood—Black parenthood especially. I also believe the story of Julia Martin’s death in 2016 partially informs my anxieties in raising a daughter. I can’t comprehend being her father, Derrick Martin, as the last point of contact before his daughter passed from her injuries after being stabbed by her disgruntled ex-boyfriend, after having cancelled their engagement. I’ve grieved for that woman and her father since learning of their tragedy three years ago.
When rapper, T.I. (Clifford Harris) confessed to forcing his daughter, Deyjah Harris, to visit a gynecologist in order to prove her virginity, I understood the intent behind it on some level. To never know the grief which has been left on the laps of men like Martin. I have no doubt that Harris’ parental objective, and my morbid obsessiveness, are somewhat rooted in that panic. A panic which is fed by our regard for the world’s horrors from which no Black child is assured safety. But in considering the terrors which have shaped the meanings of Black childhood, by centering ourselves—our paternal desires, demands, egoism—in our children’s stories, we only further breed the dread by becoming a part of it.
Nothing I suggest, here, is in defense of Clifford Harris’ invasion of his daughter’s given freedoms. I am only admitting something about Black paternity, less the character of Harris. The aim behind his abandonment of reason, even in the face of medical science feels ripped from the pages of Donal Goines, Daddy Cool (1974), a novel about a Black father who goes on a crusade of “street justice” following his daughter being forced into prosititution and, subsequently, sexually assaulted.
The novel might read like pornography to any father whose justified his posturing, in his child’s life, as the savior archetype. By having Larry Jackson’s (the titular Daddy Cool) daughter be victim to such aggressive illustrations of violence, Goines perverts the paternal concern of the child as victim narrative—to such a degree—that the catharsis (for the reader and protagonist) in Jackson’s revenge arc is predicated on the eroticization of his daughter’s brutality, by design.
Thus, it is easy to ascertain the appeal of paternal illustrations such as Daddy Cool for male readers, especially Black fathers like Harris. After all, It’s about protecting the “honor” of our children, our daughters-by any means necessary. Harris has conflated parental abuse with honoring some chivalric code in which—and this is me saying nothing new here—his daughter’s “chastity“ is made non commodity. The problem here is that her “virginity,” in fact, has already been consumed: by Clfford Harris.
I mentioned that Daddy Cool reads like pornogaphy and that’s also because the man who took the “innocence” from Jackson’s daughter, Goines, is really suggesting that he took her vagina from Jackson. Jackson’s daughter is absent the details required to be considered a realized character. She is just the sexual abuse, and human trafficking, which happens to her. She is merely her vagina being used as the McGuffin for Jackson which motivates his killing of other men to repossess. Her genitalia, more the possession of, is therefore the object by which we measure his paternal, masculine and human value.
In our relationship to the bodies of our children, many times their genitals—especially those of our daughters—become something to covet. Something to, as we see with Harris, deny their autonomy for in the attempt to claim what we feel determines our place as fathers and as men. And words such as protection get thrown around to veil more disturbing phenomena. I’m not arguing anything salacious, but only that, in conversation about precarity and the bodies of Black children, the forced submission of sex, sexuality and genital use from child to parent—Black fathers in this case—further propegates the tragedy of lost agency and what constitutes proper Black adolescent form.
Very early in childhood development, we can see a type of possessiveness, more forceful submission of genital performance and sexual expectedness from child to parent. If we are talking about fathers and daughters, there is a type of practice in extortion, wherein promises of continued affection and protection are proposed under the condition of “virginal” innocence. Compulsive ruminations about who the daughter could be fucking, how the daughter is fucking and how to prevent the prospect of intercourse for the child can certainly be drawn as incestuous thought.
This act of genital submission quite literally places the sex, sexuality and genital performance of the child into the hands of the parent to make determinations about. And if they are not obedient, the child is punished by means of, as we see with Harris, exercises of parental (often sexual) invasion, limiting access to proper sexual education/sexual health resources, emotional abandonment or physical abuse.
If children, especially Black children and especially Black girls, were not determined to be property, these acts would clearly constitute a crime. Considering the limited mobility of Black children to access any type of bodily autonomy, we should want to abandon rituals which further their subjugation.
Any discord about how Black paternal care should be performed must include a history of how Black children have been made, made up and murdered under the state:
- According to Daina Ramey Berry, author of The Price for Their Pound of Flesh, “[On Black children and reaching puberty on the plantation] Puberty also brought forth the importance of their increased commodification. These years generated outsiders’ interest in their bodies, especially the interest of medical professionals and enslavers who actively sought ways to maximize their profits.”
- Dr. David Pilgrim on the Pickaninny as mass media representation of Black children, in Antebellum slavery: “Picaninnies had bulging eyes, unkempt hair, red lips, and wide mouths into which they stuffed huge slices of watermelon. They were themselves tasty morsels for alligators. They were routinely shown on postcards, posters, and other ephemera being chased or eaten.”
- According to Harriet Washington, author of Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americns from Colonial Times to the Present, “[ On the subject of Black children and fatal experimentation], “In a 1925 Journal of the American Medical Associaton article, Dr. M. Hines Roberts made no mention of consulting parents or guardians when he wrote of subjecting 423 hospitalized “Negro newborns” in Atlanta, both sick and normal, to risky, painful spinal taps in order to study how such tests could cause injuries -”trauma produced by the needele at the site of puncture.”
- On August 28th, 1955 Emmett Till is lynched, by adult white men, after being falsely accused of whistling at a white woman.
- The Ku Klux Klan, on September 15th, 1963, kills four children-Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley-as a bomb is detonated at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
- Between 1979 and 1981, 25 Black children are murdered in Atlanta (though believed to be more). In 1982, Wayne Williams is convicted of murdering two adults, with insufficient evidence used to associate him with the child killings, but the cases are closed. Atlanta residents begged local, and federal, investigators to pursue the Ku Klux Klan as culprits, but to no avail, despite recorded histories of Klan violence against Black persons-including children- in the state of Georgia,
- On November 22, 2014 12 year old Tamir Rice is shot dead by 26 year old Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann, for playing with a toy gun. Loehmann would not be convicted of any crime.
- On February 20th, 2019 the Philadelphia Inquirer released a report on the Glen Mills School in Pennsylvania-a reformatory school-where Black boys have been systematically abused with no restitution given to families who are financially bullied by school administrators to give up taking action on behalf of their children.
- In October, 2019 Jason Roger Pope—a white South Carolinian DJ—is accused of trafficking 700 Black girls, atop alleged numerous accounts of sexually abusing Black minors.
I am in no way suggesting we should not seek to protect our children or let them be victims of parental neglect. But in so far as our protection, especially in paternity, includes the further killing of the bodies of Black children, we only posture them as playthings to injure. And injure with an immunity shared in conjunction with the state’s obsession with devouring them whole.
Black children, which we were once, have never been children in the cross hairs of state/ state sanctioned genocide and death/disease/dismemberment have always been unavoidable fixtures by which their blackness brought/brings them closer to in how they’ve been dressed as enemies of white supremacy. We can’t save them, any more than we can save ourselves, but we can allow them their own bodies, their ‘soul value’, when in the quiet spaces between parent and child. That’s the very least of what they are owed.
Donnie Denkins Moreland Jr is a Minnesota based youth violence prevention educator and writer. Donnie holds a Master’s Degree, in Film Studies, from National University and a Bachelor’s Degree, in Sociology, from Prairie View A&M University. Donnie has contributed to Black Youth Project, A Gathering of the Tribes and Sage Group Publishing.