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September 19, 2021

The Martha’s Vineyard “Racial” Incident: it takes a Village to Erase a Child.

*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.

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About a month ago, a “racial” incident took place at a summer camp on Martha’s Vineyard.

Two boys, both white, placed a tent strap around the neck of the African-American playmate. For me, the incident was less disturbing than the overreaction. Not only were the police called but so was the Boston chapter of “Lawyers for Civil Rights” bloviating about “Racism rearing its ugly head,” “Reminiscent of lynching,” and “Targeting children of color” among other accusations.

Lost in the hysteria was the fact that the two perpetrators were eight and nine years old.

Were such an action perpetrated by the Proud Boys or some white supremacist militia, I would have joined the outcry. Not for targeting two young children whose lives might be destroyed by what one of the fathers correctly defined as a “witch hunt.” (Needless to say, the PC crowd had a hard time with that one.)

I’ve been a teacher for over 35 years, mostly with kids aged 7 to 12. I was also once a kid myself. I’ve observed that kids that age play out all kinds of behavior without knowing the consequences or the implications of their actions. They tease and bully each other regardless of identity and subconsciously know that the world isn’t safe or nice no matter how hard their parents try to pretend it is. As kids, they are navigating an increasingly challenging world and are most likely overexposed to images and issues that even we adults have trouble absorbing.

One of those denouncing these two boys alleged that they were old enough to understand what systemic racism was all about. I disagree. I sure as hell didn’t understand the deep-rooted issues of the day when I was their age. Growing up in the 1950s, my friends and I, all the children of upper-crust liberals, told jokes and bantered in ways that would get us ostracized in these hyper-sensitive times.

I’ve experienced over the years that white liberals have to prove how “woke” they are, but at times, they do so in ways that are arrogant, accusatory, and in this case, downright dangerous. I find it ironic that the activist Left uses the term “racist” in the same way the conservative Right uses “socialism.” It’s a nifty scare word to dehumanize the other.

The town where this occurred is nearly all white and affluent, so perhaps its residents need to assuage their own guilt and privilege by choosing sacrificial lambs. In charged cases such as this, they demand “zero tolerance” for what they consider an overt racist assault. For me, “zero tolerance” has always translated as “zero intelligence.” The father of one of the white kids correctly noted that adults project their own attitudes and fears onto children. We have seen that before. A first-grader aiming his finger as a gun toward another (something I did repeatedly as a kid) is deemed a mass shooter threat while a toddler playing “doctor” with a neighbor child is demonized as a sex offender. Such attitudes show more of a sickness within the adult accusers than the children themselves. It takes a village to erase a child—or two.

I’m curious how many of these outraged adults took the time to talk to the kids themselves to see what motivated their actions.

I realize that my opinions run counter to what constitutes being a “white ally” in the fight against racism. But being an ally doesn’t mean being a doormat. For me, it translates as being honest and open even if that means pushing back on comments or actions that are cruel, narrow-minded, or just plain inaccurate.

In conclusion, the two boys do indeed need to be educated as to their actions, but with kindness and understanding, not with shame, guilt, or demonizing. Destroying two children in an effort to protect one is not only bad math, but bad morality.

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