The late June Callwood sometimes said, as if it were as obvious as the weather, that we live in societies that hate children. I've often wished I'd asked what she meant. I thought it again this week.
U.S. Attorney-General Jeff Sessions wrote Tuesday, about Latino refugee kids jailed apart from their parents: "These children are well cared for. In fact, they get better care than a lot of American kids do … plenty of food, education in their language, health and dental care … at taxpayer expense." That's close to saying they're better off imprisoned in the U.S., and should be grateful.
It's a deep misunderstanding, not just of what kids need but what everyone needs. Economist Karl Polanyi wrote that Africans transported to the Americas as slaves, as well as Indigenous North American peoples forced onto reserves or reservations, may have gained higher living standards by some measures, but so what? Uprooting them from the social and cultural contexts that made sense of their lives and showered them with care, all but destroyed them, or did so.
These kids have already lost the anchor of community and what remained to hold onto was its molecular unit, the family. So remove that too!
You get the sense some of these policy-makers long ago lost any sense of rootedness and care themselves and hate the thought of others enjoying it. Trump confidant Corey Lewandowski mocked the detention of a 10-year-old with Down syndrome, separated from her mom, with a "wah, wah." I don't think it's accidental that he used a child's voice. He's one of many adults in whom you can see the kid they were, if you just squint and lose the suit.
The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce objected, "This is not who we are and it must end now." In fact, his statement rings truer if you remove the "not": "This is who we are -- and it must end now."
There's a racial othering of these kids, for sure. But it rings with another level of hostility, the sort Callwood meant. Kids are endlessly evocative.
I once had a shrink to whom I mused, "You know, it's almost as if my dad wants me to fail. Isn't that ridiculous?" He looked up with rare interest and said, "Well, could there be any reason that might be true?" And, of course, there was. But it's not the sort of truth one likes to confront, individually or collectively.
In this case, the hostility comes from sheer villains, like Lewandowski and Sessions, and from more sympathetic sorts, like Rust Belt Trump voters who've seen their own contexts smashed by the economic forces of free trade and neo-liberalism. No, they thunder, they're not bothered by those kids in cages: "Because they're well cared for. We're paying $700 a day per child."
What's particularly poignant is that the kids and their parents aren't just fleeing to the U.S., they're fleeing from the results of U.S. policies in violence-drenched countries like Guatemala (where U.S. complicity extends to a CIA-backed coup in 1954); El Salvador, where the U.S. was behind a gory civil war in the 1980s; and Honduras currently, where the U.S. supported a 2009 military coup against a democratic election, and has meddled forever. At the same time neo-liberal U.S. policies at home have created a constituency ready to blame Latino immigrants for the lives and jobs they've lost.
It's an impressive two-step trick: create the refugees by destroying their homelands, then get elected by promising to keep the devils out of your country.
So it's about more than the kids, but it's about the kids.
I know a young millennial who says he can see what I and my peers missed when we were in our twenties and felt sure we'd identified all the areas requiring radical change. (I think it was imperialism and stuff like that.)
What we missed were, among other things, issues around gender and the environment. There were hints and ripples, of course, but nothing like what developed in recent years. He says he expects to find out decades from now what he and his generation missed. Could it be the kids? Or is it always the kids?
This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star.
Image: Charles Edward Miller/Flickr
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