McKenzie Adams wanted to be a
scientist. The gregarious 9-year-old Alabama girl was just that, a
girl, a little girl, a brown-skinned baby girl with braids or, in one
picture, just a side ponytail. She wanted to be a scientist, and her
family described her as "bubbly" but bubbles burst,
sometimes in the worst way. McKenzie hung herself in her
grandmother's home in the face of racist bullying and taunting, which
included the vile directive to kill herself. Her fellow students
didn't like the fact that she was friends with a white boy, and we
don't know enough to know whether the deathly hazing came from Black
or white students. All we know is that a child is dead, a baby black
girl is dead. Her suicide has shaken me to my very soul.
Manago and I talked about this on December 12 on Roland Martin's
Unfiltered program. What I observed are the many ways that African
American women are the targets of racist hatred. The man who
occupies the People's House on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue feels free to
diminish and demean Black women, and his vendetta against American
Urban Radio journalist April Ryan is obscene. But he is not the only
one. Our culture rejects Black women, rarely affirming our womanhood
and attractiveness unless it is in a way that glorifies our bodies,
not our person. Why is this important? Because beauty is currency
in our capitalist society, and a woman without currency is at the
bottom of the societal totem pole. What, you might ask, does that
have to do with public policy? The demonization and denigration of
Black women seep into the ways we are dealt with in the public space,
and even in the workplace.
McKenzie could not take being called ugly, Black, and more. She was
not immunized from the ways we live in a racially hostile space. She
could have been a scientist. Instead, she is dead. She is not the
only young Black child who has died by her own hand. Earlier this
year, US News and World Report writer Joseph P. Williams reported
that suicide rates among Black children were rising. He highlighted
children, both male and female, promising young people who ended
their own lives. According to Williams, "More elementary aged
African American children have been taking their own lives, and Black
boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 12 are doing so at roughly
twice the rate of white kids the same age."
say they don't know why young Black children are killing themselves,
but if we speculate we can factor in mental illness, family
dysfunction, unstable socioeconomic conditions and, in my opinion,
hostility to African American people that many Black children cannot
help but internalize. How might young Black people process the
killing of Tamir Rice? The murder of Sandra Bland? In Baltimore,
the vicious killing of Freddy Gray? Some young people might look at
these incidents, and the barrage of episodes directed at Black
people, and wonder if there is a safe space for them.
of the challenge with Black children and suicide is that Black people
are not accustomed to sharing their feelings. Indeed, mental health
issues are often dismissed among African Americans. Folk are told to
"pray" about depressed feelings, forgetting that prayer
without works is dead. Adults and children are advised to shrug it
off when there is no shrugging to do. The feelings of dystopia,
nihilism, and depression that many African Americans experience
because of the hostility they experience by merely living in their
skin shows up in suicides, but also in homicides and in other acting
out. And while young Black men may indulge in senseless violence,
young Black women too often turn their pain inward not outward.
stereotypes are not always appropriate. Both Black girls and boys
are killing themselves. Both Black girls and boys are working out
some of their pain through violence. According to some data, Black
girls are now involved in violent incidents with each other almost as
often as Black boys (blame the housewives, just kidding). Both Black
girls and Black boys are being marginalized and demonized by a
racist, patriarchal, predatory capitalist system.
is currently a national phenomenon, one of the top ten causes of
death in the United States. There are one hundred and twenty-three
suicides per day in this country, with 70 percent of suicides being
white men. African Americans are far less likely suicides than
whites are, but the numbers among African Americans are growing, and
the numbers among African American children are growing alarmingly.
While I am riveted by the suicide of McKenzie Adams and outraged
about the societal treatment of Black women and girls, data suggest
that Black boys are more likely to experience suicide than Black
girls are. We are letting Black children down, abandoning them to
bullies and brazen racism. Why?
children are experiencing the same stresses that Black adults are.
But they are children, and they should be protected. So many of us
say that we celebrate our children, their amazing resilience, their
artistry, their music, and their song. We must protect them as well
as celebrate them. The alarming rise in young Black suicides
suggests that too many will be young, gifted and dead.