We've Got A White Infantilization Complex

By Maggie Kurnyta

Before we go any further, let’s just acknowledge the reality: America has an infantilization fetish...well, only concerning white people. DING DONG! Black boyhood has been dead for a very long time, and Black womanhood is the single most predatory force terrorizing white womanhood. This is what we, white people, tell ourselves to justify every act of violence and oppression that we commit, and oh, do we have a long list to account for.

I have to believe that Black boyhood existed without contamination by white hands at one point, without the lingering news outlets and conservative talk-pieces compartmentalizing it as a form of aggression and terror. Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Tamir Rice were never simply Black boys in America--they were poster children, ripe for white exploitation in the same lens as Emmett Till and other murdered innocents. They became violent, threatening Black men, and just their existences were enough to scare white armed police officers.

Meanwhile, white domestic terrorists whose actions are more than enough to leave them unnamed are protected by the American way of justification. They become tokens of mental health rehabilitation and the harmful effects of school bullying; their lone-wolf status nearly shackles them not to a prison cell but to their white privilege. They are infantilized as victims of a regime or anarchists who committed heinous crimes because of their lack of access to mental health treatment. The white police officers who coldly shoot Black bodies in public spaces and populated streets are seen as family men incapable of committing an act of violence, despite being fully immersed in a “white brotherhood” type of fraternity (for examples, see police, military, etc.)

The “white brotherhood” mentality is another word for racism at its finest. When a white cop shoots a Black boy, the predominantly white police department maintains a strict silence; they refuse to turn against one of their own, and once again, the white male hegemony is further cemented in its toxic state. Mothers within the Black Lives Matter movement plead to their fellow American mothers, all to be turned away by white wives, mothers, and sisters. The power of whiteness is so strong that it will arguably trump any emotional or physical connection that includes a person of color.

Now, a topic of white infantilization cannot be complete without assessing the oppressive and victimizing nature of white womanhood. When Emmett Till, a young Black boy, was beaten and murdered for allegedly (later disproved) flirting with a white woman in 1955, his white local community used his predatory nature as a justificatory excuse. He threatened white womanhood with his Black masculinity, and as was and is still currently used against Black men in America, the threat of false cries of sexual assault became a custom. When I say that this threat is currently used to demonize non-white masculinity, I say this in relation to the Central Park Five investigation.

A discussion of Black masculinity would be incomplete without a brief glance into America’s treatment of Black womanhood. For evidence, look no further than Maria Sharapova’s narrative account of the utter fear and intimidation she felt playing against Serena Williams. Her masculine presence was a threat to Sharapova’s fragile white femininity, and that simple statement is enough for us to understand the numerous representative facets of Black womanhood. From the Jezebel myth to the Mammy imagery, Black women have systematically reclaimed their own powerful stories while still being burdened by the harmful historical connotations of their gender and their race.  

While this white infantilization complex needs to be dismantled and forgotten as a form of oppression and silencing, I also say this as a white woman. I am not plagued with the constant fear of being profiled and murdered just for the color of my skin. Without even having to check, I know that most forms of political or physical authoritative power in my city will have the same color skin as I do. My white privilege checklist represents the benefits I receive on a daily basis. My womanhood is not seen as a excuse for white men to exert physical violence and assault against me. Even though this white complex needs to be dismantled, I have little confidence that whiteness will follow thereafter.