#HisNameIsCayden: How Racism Takes Away Childhood From Black Children



This is the hashtag started by the mother of a Black 3-year-old child, Cayden, who was the victim of racism. The incident was started by her now former White co-worker Geris Hilton, and his Facebook friends.

Hilton had posted a picture with Cayden, and what ensued can only be described as deplorable. Facebook comments that racially victimized the child, the 3-year-old child.

Screen shots were sent to the mother according to news reports. But because this is the Internet and nothing you do is private, the incident soon became public.

Hilton lost his job. His now former employers sent out the following message on their Facebook page, condemning his actions:

In unsurprising news, Hilton believed the incident was taken out of context and feels personally victimized.

Welcome to racism in 2015 where some people actually believe that unless you are hanging a Person of Color from a noose while shouting “White power!” you’re not a racist.

As awful as this incident is, I would be lying if I said I’m surprised. It’s a shame but little about Western and indeed the United States’ societal perpetual racism is surprising. Some people may argue to the death about a post-racial society, but the evidence tells a different story.

The cost of racism for Black children in particular, means they face a certain loss of childhood. From the numerous parents who confess having to inform their child of how to act (i.e. respectability) in front of White authority, to having “the talk” with them at an early age. Some might unknowingly ask, “The sex talk?” No, the police talk.

Black children in schools are more likely to be suspended, even from preschool. Black boys and girls are disciplined more, and less scholastic achievement is expected of them (and Latino/a children). And Black children, but especially little Black boys, are viewed as less innocent than their White counterparts.

All of this is scientifically collected social data. All of this is known by many Black parents who often have to go the extra mile to make sure their child is treated as fairly as possible, while not being that parent. It’s a delicate position to be in – it’s an unfair position to be in. But this is America, and this is America still, in 2015.

We often talk about the political, social, and cultural consequences of racism, but we talk less about the psychological effects on People of Color, and indeed on children of Color who grow up in a racist system. Only recently has research come out about the psychological toll of racism – some of which links PTSD to the experience of racism.

Children who are victims of war and conflict experience PTSD. Children who fight wars – child soldiers, that is – experience PTSD. Children who are raped, who are physically and emotionally abused, experience PTSD. We know this.

So what about Children of Color, and specifically Black children who face the brunt of this racist system? What about the potential of this racist system to inflict PTSD on children growing up? What are the psychological effects of being a child who grows up in a system that is designed against you? How can you be a child in a society that hates you?

It’s not all doom and gloom. There are reasons to be hopeful in this society. Greater education, the proliferation of diverse voices, and many civil movements are doing their part to eradicate racism, from the institutional to the individual.

But I would say Hilton and people like him and his friends are the greatest challenge this country has to racism. The average, everyday people going about their casual racism – not willing and able to see it for what it is – and then believing they are the ones under attack.

It’s a reminder that though we live in the same world, we do not live in the same reality – it’s my fundamental message of race discussions and discourse to the American public. The experience and consequences of race and skin color are real – more real for some than for others.

The consequences of race and racism for some of our Black children is less of a childhood. And there really is no way to fix it without fixing the system in its entirety. Because how many more Hiltons are there, sitting next to us in our workplaces, walking alongside us on the sidewalk, and perhaps even smiling to our faces? We can fire this one Hilton but can we fire them all? The system, the culture, and the people need a civil revolution.

Because Cayden deserves better. And so do many of our Black children. And what do they deserve exactly? Childhood.