America’s search for the 21st century Aunt Jemima – updated


America is loving this photo but when I first saw it, I was uncomfortable. When I found out that the child had been adopted by white parents I felt more uncomfortable, but not at all surprised. When I read how much his parents were sharing about this child’s very personal history, I nearly threw up.

Now many parents who have adopted children are extremely proud of the gigantic obstacles their children have conquered -I am one of those parents – and there is nothing wrong with marveling at our children’s resilience and perseverance. But there is something VERY wrong with sharing your child’s history as publicly as these parents have chosen to do. It’s the internet. There are no take backs. This information is following this kid on every date and job interview he goes on for the rest of his life.

And that would be bad enough, but beyond the negative impact on this on this young boy, there is also the dangerous narrative that this image and story perpetuates for us a country. Because there’s a reason this photo went viral, and it ain’t new or good. It’s old and bad.

Nope, it perfectly illustrates both the white savior complex and the idea that affection from white folks turns black folks into “one of the good ones.”

Case in point: Michael Brown, raised by his Black family and he robs a convenience store, magically morphs into the Incredible Hulk, and winds up riddled with a cop’s bullets in the middle of the street. Tamir Rice, raised by his Black family (including his dad who is reported to have had involvement with the criminal justice system), takes a fake gun to the park and is shot by the police before the patrol car even stops rolling. In contrast, this young man in the photo: saved from drugs, abuse, and poverty in his Black birth family and raised by a white family; makes a poster offering free hugs; wears a fetching chapeau; and solves racism by hugging a white cop.

Now let me be clear, I’m not saying that this child should not have been removed from his apparently abusive and neglectful birth family or that his white moms did anything wrong adopting him. What I’m saying is that we, as white adoptive parents of black children, need to be extremely careful of how and when we insert our family’s narrative into the national discussion of racism. Because if we’re not careful, instead of helping to enlighten white folks about their privilege and institutionalized racism, we enable them to have a feel good moment in the midst black folks’ trauma and horror, all the while reinforcing dangerous stereotypes that ultimately damage our very children.

Many friends of mine have posted this photo and more than one has talked about this kid overcoming incredible odds to “change the world.” God bless him, I hope he does change the world one day. But he didn’t change it when he hugged the cop. Instead, he was used as a tool to keep the status quo exactly the way white people want it. The media and social media shares and likes have turned him into the Aunt Jemima of the 21st century, with white lesbian moms for an added splash of modernity.

Update: I wrote the above based on the assumption that the photo in question was an accurate portrayal of a spontaneous and genuine interaction. Since then, it has come to my attention that the photo was staged and cropped to make it look like something it was not, the police officer in the photo was a supporter of Darren Wilson and has not back down from this stance since the photo was taken, and the child (god bless him, really!) is the subject of numerous similar, odd, and disturbing videos on Youtube that show him crying and intimately hugging adults in public. This additional information has been included in numerous threads and yet, folks keep talking about how the critical thinking surrounding the image re: privilege (which I haven’t even touched on), voyeurism, and racism is inappropriate and everyone should just enjoy the image.

Well folks, thanks for making my point even more effectively! Talk about a hollow victory…

Because the photo so beloved because it shows “genuine human emotion” is nothing of the sort. It’s exploitation and Hallmark packaging of genocide. This photo, however IS real and honest genuine human emotion, but it’s not so warm and fuzzy.

Protestors hit the streets in Clayton