As America ran rampant over the viral video of an emotional young white boy named Keaton Jones, it felt like déjà vu all over again. Jones, a teary-eyed middle schooler from Tennessee, became the instant face of a conversation on bullying after his mother taped his personal account on social media over the weekend. In only a few short days, Jones has received countless celebrity shout-outs and invitations to red carpet movie premieres, free gifts and a GoFundMe account that has raised thousands of dollars for him.
Now there is speculation that his mother might actually be a proud Confederate flag waving racist, but that still hasn’t stopped the outpour of support and love many have had for him online.
As some began to question why haven’t other children of color who have been bullied over the years not been elevated to the extent of Jones. I made it plain for them on Twitter:
That’s right: If Jones was Black, America wouldn’t give a damn.
A long history of the school-to-prison pipeline could easily dispel any notions that all children in America are treated equally. Young Black boys and girls in public schools are suspended and disciplined at exponential rates that are higher than their white peers. Culturally, when many of them are bullied, they aren’t given declarations of empathy, but told to “get over it,” which often belittles their sentiments and escalates more fatal ways of dealing with trauma.
Such was the case for a 10-year-old Colorado girl named Ashawnty Davis, who committed suicide after a video was posted of her being bullied. We had to also mourn the loss of 8-year-old Gabriel Taye of Ohio, who tragically hanged himself after being bullied in school. There was no awareness campaign for these Black children that went viral on social media. We didn’t see Black athletes or celebrities making public service announcements for them as they did Jones. And sadly, our community has been conditioned to publicly empathize for white lives over our own because we live in a nation that penalizes us for doing such.
To say Black lives matter in America can cost you your career, as it has with many everyday activists, educators, and civilians. While many return to watching the NFL, Colin Kaepernick is still a free-agent because he took a stand for lives that are often devalued in our country. Which makes it easier to understand why so many Black people galvanize towards defending white people’s struggle and issues. We fear to fight for our own personal survival, even when it is still under attack by the very institutions that we depend on.
As a result, we have a generation of Black youth who are not being spoken up for and protected. We continue to ignore the systematic disenfranchisement they face in public schools and then have the audacity to judge their life choices afterward. Imagine what it must feel like to go to school everyday and know that how you feel doesn’t hold the same value to what someone else does simply because of skin color. Such internalized inferiority has the power to break a community down and tear a family apart. Much of what we are seeing in the current Black struggle is generational rehashing of selective empathy, which is being carried out in our youth.
If Jones was actually bullied, my condolences sincerely go out to him. But with all due respect, I am not going to shed one tear less for the Black and brown children who also face such bullying in their childhood through adulthood by people who hold the same oppressive beliefs his mother allegedly holds.
It’s time to start amplifying the voices of Black children who, like their communities, are often ignored, belittled or told to simply told to “deal with it.” I’m tired of “dealing,” it’s time for real healing.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
Ernest Owens is the editor of Philadelphia magazine’s G Philly. He has written for USA Today, NBC News, The Grio, HuffPost and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and ernestowens.com.
(Photo from left: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for The New School, Michael Tullberg/Getty Images, Jason Merritt/Getty Images)