Don't Make Children Pawns in Social Change—Again
Entering the third grade in Jackson, Mississippi, I changed schools and schoolmates when desegregation finally occurred in 1973.
Honestly, I had only a third grade understanding of the issues, but we all knew something was up. I had my first African American teacher. I made my first African American friends.
The social change was just. Segregation had to end.
Disruptive? Yeah, my life was thrown off kilter some. It was much worse, however, for local African American children.
I’m now 56 and value African American friends with whom I can share honest conversation. From time to time, we talk about their desegregation experiences.
For some of them, it was brutally scarring.
Two recall being forced onto busses (they couldn’t really fathom why) and driven far across town to attend a mostly white school where they weren’t welcome, to put it mildly. Leaving in the mornings, they jutted their heads out bus windows, weeping and begging their parents to let them stay at their old schools with their old friends and trusted teachers.
Now deceased, my good friend Spencer Perkins (son of John Perkins) wrote and published a powerful article about his own pain at enduring being moved to a previously all-white school. It left him resentful and bitter.
Children like Spencer were guinea pigs on the frontline of social upheaval resulting from the sins of my ancestors.
A few have told me they now believe it was wrong to use children as the pawns in our parents’ chess match to desegregate the South. A top progressive thinker and friend of mine also insists it was a big mistake.
That brings us to our nation’s southern border. No decent adult isn’t moved by the faces of weeping desperate children. That’s because innocent children should never be forced into desperate frightening situations—especially not by “thoughtful” national leadership. (Some say it’s the parents’ faults that they are weeping; again, this is a complex matter with more than one big-picture side.)
Today, our leaders (this time the President and his frontline team, not the Supreme Court) have decided to force the issue by making a big social statement using vulnerable children. It’s imploding because inflicting social and emotional scars on children with no say about their immigration status or motives is wrong—period.
Yes, parents cross the border with their children and without proper papers. Yes, current United States laws oppose these parents’ border crossings and dictate that their children be removed from them if they do cross. While we argue about these big matters, however, real kids take gut punches in another social experiment.
Racial integration had to happen in the South. Thankfully it did. But a smart Supreme Court surely could have thought up a better way.
Now, immigration laws are the battlefield and children take the blows again. Smart leaders surely can think of a better way.
The children must not incur the frontline fire.
NOTE: YESTERDAY MISSISSIPPI MATTERS PUBLISHED A POLL ABOUT THE PLIGHT OF THESE CHILDREN. AFTER GOOD FEEDBACK AND PERSONAL CONSIDERATION, I DETERMINED IT WAS OVERSIMPLIFIED AND THAT POLLING ON THIS ISSUE FAILS TO ADDRESS ITS COMPLEXITIES--AT LEAST AT THIS POINT.