The Case of “Child Q”
Adultification, misogynoir and racism are a toxic combination
“That could so easily have been my child.”
I’m sure that thought went through the minds of many Black parents as they read of the case of Child Q - the 15-year-old Black girl who was strip-searched at school because of a suspicion - later proved to be false - that she had cannabis. That incident illustrates many things that are wrong with the world we live in, and the fact that we’re all swimming in the water of white supremacy. It also shows why Black parents have to give kids “the talk” and awaken them to the realities of racism pretty early in life, otherwise the world will do it first, and it won’t be pretty. What happened to Child Q certainly wasn’t.
Martin Barrow @MartinBarrowAnother Met Police scandal: a black girl was stripped and searched at school. The search, which involved the exposure of her intimate body parts, took place without an appropriate adult present and with the knowledge that she was menstruating. Case review: https://t.co/mVZgCBwJCD
When I do anti-racism workshops and talk to people at events, it’s obvious that there’s a huge gulf between the time Black kids and white kids become aware of “race” (in quotes, because though racism is real, the concept of race is a harmful and enduring fiction). If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you’ll know that I first heard the N-word around the age of 7. But I know of Black and Brown people who are racially abused before they’re old enough to form full sentences. Sit with that for a minute, and think about how irate you’d feel if that happened to your child. Our anger over racism is justified, believe you me.
Because of racism, Black kids are often assumed to be older and more responsible than they actually are - that’s called adultification, and it’s wrong. It seems to me that this was a factor in the case of Child Q. I find it hard to believe that a white kid in the same circumstances, a minor, would be pulled out of class and strip searched without a parent or appropriate adult in the room. The intention was clearly to degrade that poor child. Remember, white privilege is about the obstacles you DON'T face, and this is a prime example of what can happen when you don’t have it.
Another article I read on the subject pointed out that in that borough most of the kids treated in this way were Black. Again, let that sink in.
Racism and presumed guilt
Then there’s the presumption of guilt that affected how the girl was treated. I’ve written before about the assumed wrongness of Black people. We don’t have to do anything to be suspect. And clearly, that includes being in school, minding your business, and preparing for an exam.
Plus, there’s the misogynoir factor, where certain things are assumed about Black women. Again, this seems to have been a factor, because Child Q was treated like an adult (though an adult would at least have had legal representation).
Being a teenager is fraught with hormones and emotions; having your period can be fraught with hormones and emotions - being strip-searched and forced to remove your tampon while menstruating - the horror and humiliation are unending! But that’s only part of the issue.
British racism - “covert, but real”
School is a place where you’re supposed to be safe, where teachers and other staff stand in for your parents and protect you. That wasn’t the case for Child Q. It isn’t the case for many Black children.
White Brits often congratulate themselves on not being as racist as white Americans. This case says that, apart from killing fewer Black people, there’s nothing to feel smug about. As Shereen Daniels says, British racism is more covert, but no less real. Both school authorities and the police should have protected Child Q - both failed to do so! Clearly, there’s been little progress on institutional racism in the UK since the Stephen Lawrence enquiry.
As a parent, my heart hurts today. And it hurts for all the other Black children who experience this without it making the news (you can be sure that where there’s one, there are others). When I talked about raising my biracial child in the Caribbean to avoid racism, even I didn’t think this was one of the experiences I’d be saving her from.
As global majority people living and working in global minority spaces, we experience racism all the time, but as bad as racism is for us as adults, it's a double blow when we have to send our children out into a world that will not allow them to have the full benefit or experience of childhood. A world that will discount, despise, discredit, degrade and dehumanize them. A world where an empathy gap means that things that happen to Black people don’t evoke the same humane response as things that happen to white people.
What happened to Child Q happens to Black girls all the time. For example, listen to Mena Fombo talk about her experience:
It should never happen to anyone, and no belated apology is enough to wash away that experience. It can never be enough. The institutional racism that pervades schools and policing (and not just those sectors) has to change.
Another thing that bothers me is the performative caring, the surprise and shock. After all, surely we can no longer be surprised or shocked by racism. So many countries were built on it. So many systems rely on it. So many people willfully ignore it and want to deny it. Yet racism exists, and the consequences are real. If you want to know how Black people feel about it, read “This One’s for Q” by narrative storyteller James Pogson - it gave me chills!
Another Empathy Gap
If (like so many journalists and commentators covering the story) the only thing that helps you empathize with Child Q is the fact that she had her period, rather than the fact that she was a child mistreated by the adults she should have been able to trust in a place where she should have been able to feel safe, you need to take a long, hard look in the mirror, then retake your Empathy 101 final. (You can also sign this petition and check out the Stop Strip Search campaign.)
As a would-be ally, if you have young people you care about in your life, imagine how you’d feel and how they’d feel if this happened to them. You have only to look at the personality change and constant stress Child Q now experiences to get a glimpse of what it would be like. Ask yourself if this is an acceptable way to treat ANY human being. Then DO something to make sure it never happens again!
Thanks for reading,
Image credit: pocstock/michael simons
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2022. All Rights Reserved.