All the clamor over Ryan Lochte has passed, but I still have some lingering resentment of it, so I’m writing this weeks after it may seem relevant.
Please forgive me, though. I’m actually talking about something bigger and more important than Ryan Lochte; I’m just using his bullshit antics as an entryway into the conversation.
Ryan Lochte went to Rio last month to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics, didn’t medal, very probably started feeling sorry for himself, and decided he needed to “blow off some steam”–all good, nothing wrong with any of that, whatever, good for Ryan.
Where he fucked up is he got drunk, tore up a gas station, got caught by Brazilian security, caught an attitude, and tried to get the security in trouble by claiming they were crooked and robbed him.
His horrible, entitled decision making throughout the night of August 14 took him from international idol to international asshole in record time, and the media had a field day reporting on “poor” Ryan as, first, the victim of a fabricated robbery and then the victim of a fabricated developmental delay.
Now, this is where the media fucked up–in its collective decision to portray Lochte as an overgrown adolescent that should be let off the hook without any accountability rather than a grown man that willingly vandalized public property and deliberately lied about it.
By discussing Lochte like an overgrown adolescent, the media exposed just how real and deeply entrenched the racial bias in the portrayal of black males in American news reporting is.
Because when Trayvon Martin (17-years-old), Mike Brown (18-years-old), and Tamir Rice (12-years-old) were discussed in the news, they were habitually called “males” or “young men,” not “kids” or “boys,” and regarded adults, capable of making more “appropriate” decisions in response to Zimmerman (28 at the time he murdered Trayvon), Wilson (28 at the time he murdered Mike and a trained police officer), and Loehmann (26 at the time he murdered Tamir and a trained officer as well).
Ryan Lochte was older than even Zimmerman, Wilson, and Loehmann–he was 32–when he went into that Brazilian gas station, broke the soap holder and a mirror, ripped up flooring, tore down a sign, and urinated all over the property with his teammates.
He was definitely too old to be called a “kid” or extended the forbearance we give children for being relatively unformed in terms of decency, morality, integrity, and responsibility.
And black people all over Twitter and the rest of the world spoke up about this fact. They dragged the American media for the routinely discrepant way it portrays black boys–as intrinsically violent or anti-social rather than age appropriately defiant or immature.
But what I have to say is–black people–we need to watch the ways in which we adultify and parentify our own children because we do, even though I hate to admit it.
We need to be vigilant about our own tendency to regard grown black men as “kids” that cannot make responsible decisions and cover for their lapses in judgment or into dysfunction, which puts a rubber stamp on head games like the one the media tried to play in its defense of Ryan Lochte.
I say this because at the same time that Ryan Lochte was touring the morning talk shows, trying to slip out of giving a proper apology for what he had done, a 14-year-old black girl named Bresha Meadows was being peripherally discussed; she was standing accused of having killed her father for being abusive toward her mother.
Her father was a 41-year-old man that had reportedly battered her mother for years.
After years of witnessing this, and some say being abused herself, on July 28, Bresha allegedly shot her father with a gun he routinely used to threaten the family–a girl with no history of personal violence.
The family immediately rushed to her defense, justifying her actions by corroborating reports of her father’s abusive behavior, and her mother made sure to tell reporters, however sincerely and/or strategically that Bresha was “[her] hero.”
“I wasn’t strong enough to get out and she helped me,” Mom said. With tears in her eyes and sorrow written all over her face, I’m sure.
And this is where I want to insert my argument–right in this place where Mom allowed circumstances to become such that Bresha–a kid–had to step up, stand in, and do a woman’s job.
Or a man’s job if we buy into the concept that as someone with an obvious problem, Dad, too, could’ve and should’ve sought help. Which I do.
Either way you want to look at it, the bottom-line is Bresha Meadows is not an adult. She isn’t a woman. She’s a little girl.
And so she shouldn’t have had to end her father’s abuse; she should’ve been cloistered from it by the other adults in her life.
Her father, on the other end of it, wasn’t a child; he should’ve been held accountable by his wife and other adult family members for his unwillingness to seek help for his obvious issues with violence.
It’s important that black people take time to reflect on these concepts because if we do not want white people or people in authority positions to adultify our children, then we can’t adultify our children. We have to acknowledge, protect, preserve, and respect their childhood just like we want other to do.
Black kids are often perceived as less “child-like” because they are physiologically more developed than their white counterparts, yes–they are heavier and undergo puberty much earlier–but a lot of the time they signify as older through psycho-social cues–the way they talk, the way they act, the way they appear to think.
This is because too many black kids are made to deal with situations that are “older” than they are or than the situations with which they should be rightfully dealing at their age.
I’m not talking about having to go without the new Pokemon game for your Nintendo 3DS because the electric bill was higher than usual this month, and the discretionary or miscellaneous budget for the house is smaller. No. That sort of thing is understandable, minor aspect of life for working or poor families with limited resources.
I’m talking about having to take care of your younger siblings because of your mother’s incessant dating and/or partying or adamant refusal to use birth control.
I’m talking about being made to get on the phone and ask your father about his child support payments because your mother refuses to do it.
I’m talking about having to fend off your parent’s predatory lover because he or she doesn’t have high enough self-esteem or a high enough level of self-reliance to separate from this person and put you out of their reach.
I’m talking about having to shoot your father to protect your mother because she won’t get help to grow mentally strong enough to leave her abusive marriage, your father won’t get help to stop battering your mother, and the other adults in the family won’t intervene and take you and/or your siblings out of the household in which the abuse is taking place out of some misguided notion of “respecting” your parents’ rights.
If those of us that actually walk the walk of adulthood know one thing, it’s that being an adult necessitates that we make tough decisions and deal with painful circumstances as a matter of course.
But if we have decided to take on parenting or the custodianship or guardianship of a child or multiple children–if we have adduced our status as “adults” in that way–in order to “qualify” for that level of responsibility–then we have to be women and men about it.
We have to be the adults that we claim to be.
Black people love to talk about how “grown” they are. That’s a favorite phrase of ours. “I’m a grown-ass woman/I’m a grown-ass man.”
But being a grown person is more than a matter of standing in the middle of the floor and making declarations.
And claiming to be an adult then displacing responsibility for a situation onto a child, or simply leaving a problem for a child to solve, because you don’t have the guts to do it yourself is unfair and actually somewhat unsavory.
If you create a problem using the autonomy and agency that adulthood affords you, then you should solve it, not leave it up to your kids to solve.
Because I believe that when we adultify and parentify our kids in this way, it makes it that much easier for white people to do it–to propagate a concept of black children as pathological that they can then use to frame them.
The reason Zimmerman was able to get off in his trial is because it was easy for the jury to believe that a 17-year-old black boy can pose a lethal threat to a 28-year-old man.
It was easy for the jury to believe this because so many 17-year-old black boys are forced by their home situations to act like men–to physically defend their mothers and siblings against older men, to physically care for their siblings like a father, to work full-time rather than go to school so they can earn enough money to pay bills, to fend for themselves in the streets for survival because they were kicked out by frustrated or overwhelmed parents–I can go on and on.
This isn’t exclusive to our boys, and it isn’t exclusive to our kids, either, but I do think that adultifying and parentifying our children may have more dangerous ramifications than we like to entertain as we go about our day-to-day lives. Serious cultural ramifications.
This is why we as actual black adults should do everything we can to allow our kids to live as kids while they are kids and develop into adults at the natural, appropriate pace, in as much as we can do so.
Whether we want to admit it or not, when we don’t slay our own dragons, we are inviting our children to do it for us out of love and loyalty, and this isn’t conducive to anything but causing them undue damage most of the time.
Let me say that more plainly: It’s not our children’s place to be our heroes, rather it’s our obligation to protect and take holistic care of them.
That’s what raising kids is. Bracing their backs and picking them up when they fall. Bandaging their wounds and kissing away their tears.
Ryan Lochte is not a kid, but Bresha Meadows is, and, now, she’s being charged with aggravated murder.
There is no lie that can get her out of this, and the truth, though moving, might not acquit her either.
She doesn’t belong in prison for what she’s done, but it’s very likely that she might end up there, considering how little anyone seems to believe in black innocence or value black lives these days.
And I’m guessing one of the arguments the prosecutor will make against her–to get her there–is she should be punished as an adult since she acted as one.