White and Children

Whenever I teach English Composition, I tell students that good writing is really only a matter of building bridges only you can build; making connections no one else can make is what separates an essay that is a rote mechanical exercise of getting words on paper from a creative expression. One day I will write a paper about Joycean neologism in Finnegans Wake and neologism in the music of Young Thug. But that’s for another response. Point is: when I went into Voyant for the first time, I was excited all of the new avenues of bridge building that the digital humanities provide. I was drawn immediately to the contexts and correlations sections at the bottom of the window. The correlation that interested me the most was between the words “children” and white.”

It’s a curious correlation for a number of reasons. In a journal made by and for black Americans, why are white children appearing so often and so close to one another? I can’t help remembering my disgusting priest’s classroom in my wasted Catholic high school. A pro-life poster that read “black children are an endangered species,” was the only permanent fixture on his only bulletin board. We passed it every time we were dismissed. Dear God, a species. Of course, no analogous poster exists for white children. A bias, even an unconscious one, is obvious: white children are, well, children. Black children are not. Consider Tamir Rice, the twelve-year-old boy who was shot for carrying a toy gun. For black children in this country, childhood and play ends prematurely. As soon as black bodies appear within the institutional gaze, childhood gives way to a long adulthood. Now, obviously I’m reaching, but I think that’s the while point. The process of the reading and building the digital humanities not only allows for, but encourages reaching and grasping for ideas that are just beyond the periphery of traditional paper scholarship.