Empathy is for white kids: Keaton Jones and the Black children we ignore for white supremacists

By Arielle Iniko Newton

Like everyone on my timeline, I watched the video of Keaton Jones crying on camera after having been bullied in school. But unlike everyone on my timeline, I was immediately suspicious, not empathetic. That’s because in my Love and trust of Blackness, I am limited in my ability to provide emotional or mental support to white people.

To some, my decision to emotionally divest from whiteness is harsh. But it is whiteness that is harsh. Whiteness is the reason that Black people and people of color have been slaughtered by the millions and are undeservedly paralyzed in the social underclass. Whiteness is harsh in how it devours our resources and culture, leaving us socioeconomically immobile. Whiteness, to borrow language from Jess Krug, holds us hostage in its institutions, and coerces us into seeing this unequitable arrangement as a legitimate necessity for survival.

In seeking Liberation for my People, I have to consider how whiteness is channeled through its individual agents systematically, and is an inherent evil deserving of, at the most minimal consideration, extreme suspicion.

This is why, upon watching the video, I viscerally sought questions before I decided if I would extend empathy. My first question involved consent; did Kimberly Jones, Keaton’s mother, ask for his permission before filming and posting his ordeal? And, if she did ask consent, did she explain to him how the public delivery of his pain could potentially lead to mass attention beyond his control?

Next, I considered that the Jones’ family resides in Tennessee, a hotbed of Confederate support. I wondered if he was being raised as an active racist, and if he were being trained to see people of color as inferior, criminal, and dangerous.

Finally, I thought of his bulliers. If they were white, I needn’t exert much energy because white-on-white crime isn’t my concern. If his attackers were Black, I thought first of how or if Keaton provoked them—if he called them niggers or had an extensive history of violent behavior towards them. My empathy went to these children whom I did not know as I thought more on my responsibility to defend Black children publicly.

Then I logged off, watched Real Housewives of Atlanta, and waited for more developments on this story to see if my suspicions were well placed.

They were. Kimberly Jones is an apparent active racist who bullies people online. There are pictures online of her and her children holding Confederate flags. Keaton allegedly got his ass beat because he called Black children niggers.

Once again, my Love and trust for Black people meant that I was correct in remaining hesitant in extending what little empathy I could for a white child and his family. And, apparently, Kimberly Jones doesn’t want my empathy anyway—to her, the whites need to stick together.

In the twenty-four hours I’ve been engaged in Keaton’s story, I thought of how we examine white childhood as inherently innocent, while Black children are not provided the same grace. There has been much research confirming how Black children are not seen as innocent and inhuman. In a 2012 study, Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality found that “adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers, especially in the age range of 5 – 14.” Study after study shows similar patterns about Black boys and criminality. It is an accepted fact that our children are suffering due to the longstanding and wide-ranging dehumanization of Black people.

Despite all this, and with stunning irony, many of us do not view white children as capable of immorality, even though we have seen how white children can be dangerous throughout history. We have seen white students kill their classmates and rape their peers. Additionally, we know that they learn racism from their racist parents. Keaton’s mother created an environment that positions Black people as niggers when she adorned their family home in Confederate flags.

It’s easy to understand that anyone who grows up immersed in the violence of whiteness is inherently dangerous, and yet I struggle to write that part of our Liberation as Black people is to see white children as dangerous too. I find difficulty in writing these words because they stand in stark refutation to everything we—as a collective society—have been taught about children. But I write these words because we must hold firm to the truth that anti-Black conditioning begins the moment children enter this world. Anti-Black orientation is claustrophobic and most unfortunately, children are not immune.

Beyond confirming the validity of our suspicion of white children, our support of the child of a white supremacist proves the necessity of instead extending unapologetic empathy and consideration for Black kids. We must center our attention on allowing them the innocence and humanity the world does not afford them in an effort to resist the violence that whiteness considers natural. Our world—our future—depends on our relentlessness in protecting Black children, and they must always be our focus in navigating toward a world that is not yet here.

Suggested Reading

I could not grieve Las Vegas because I have run out of tears for white death,” – Kejhonti Neloms, RaceBaitR (October 10, 2017)

The most dangerous place for Black children …” – Courtney Bowie, American Civil Liberties Union  (February 25, 2011)

Innocence is a Privilege:  Black Children Are Not Allowed to be Innocent in America” – Nicole Dennis-Benn, Electric Lit  (July 12, 2016)

Photographer: @sindayiganza

Arielle Iniko Newton is the senior editor of  @RaceBaitR, an organizer within the Movement for Black Lives, and the founder of the Black Giving Fund. She’s the host of the RaceBaiting, the first RaceBaitR podcast. As Head Girl of Ravenclaw, she is an unapologetic mermaid, abolitionist, and radical militant freedom fighter.  

Follow her on Twitter at  @arielle_newton or send her an email at arielle@racebaitr.com.

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One Comment

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  1. I think this piece makes sense. Thank you for it. White people are scared and expect a “pass” to remain ignorant or to take their time to understand POC’s pain. I think it only makes sense to be suspicious and cautious with your empathy. I know I would be.

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