To Those Who Take Our Children,
Some of us grow up with different monsters. Not the boogeyman others know. Not some green-skinned creature that hides under the bed. For some of us, the fear isn’t in some dark matter that jumps out to say “boo.” For some of us — the monster looks like you. He is a well-dressed man. Adorned in a black suit, perhaps a little American flag pinned to his lapel. Some faceless man, whose features could pass for a politician’s, a police officer, a malicious judge. He does not creep around in the dark. He does not howl in the night. But he does take our children.
This man can be traced throughout history. In a country with a long documented past of systemic oppression and a ‘functional’ hierarchy built on the backs of black and brown people, his power has only continued to grow. Like a wildfire, he spreads his endless rage. He erases the ability to safely seek medical care, squanders expectations of equality in education, and makes ashes of unbiased reports. The very lives of our children — from their access to food to the books they read — are manifestations of the undeniable racist and classist climate this man demands.
The man is stubborn and cruel. We ask him questions. Pleading for an answer as we negotiate with our captor. “Why can’t we take our children to doctors without worrying about them being taken away from us?” “When did it become a crime to be poor?” “When will it become safe to be Black?” He does not answer. We sit on couches, watching demonstrative inequities of justice. Not Guilty verdicts of white supremacists and refusals of justice for Black victims. Our Boogeyman has created a society bound to white supremacy, a train on its way to ruins, running on the constant fuel of new generations of oppressors. These oppressors look different every time. Sometimes dressed in button-downs and jeans holding guns outside of their residence, sometimes in stiff uniforms with their feet on our necks, but most times completely indistinguishable from the rest of the crowd, comfortable in the chaos, privileged to be idle. We can name several services and institutions that protect the everyday violence of our Boogeyman. But a particularly cruel one happens to be the one closest to our children. Child Protective Services.
In the United States, each and every element is designed to maintain the hierarchy of white supremacy demanded since colonization. CPS is no different. The US is comprised of federal, state, and local efforts all combined to respond to child abuse and neglect. However, these efforts target certain families more so than others. According to NCSL in 2018, despite Black children only making up 13.71% of the population, 22.75% in foster care are Black. Indigenous children, according to NCSL’s 2018 statistics, despite only making up less than even 1%of the population, account for 2.40% of children within the foster care system. While those numbers might seem small in comparison to the 44.37% of White children in foster care, considering that white children make up over 50% of the child population in the US and live in equal percentages of poverty, CPS is seemingly yet another barrier to cycle breaking. Black and Indigenous children make up an exceedingly disproportionate number of children in foster care, victims identified by child protective services, and children waiting to be adopted.
Hidden in the statistics, are the children forever impacted. On March 11th, 2021 Florida CPS took eighteen-month-old Amen’Ra, the son of Syesha Mercado. On August 11th CPS then proceeded to take their only days old daughter Ast during a “roadside wellness check”. And, while the couple has since been reunited with their daughter, they are still fighting to gain back custody of their son. What prompted this separation? A hospital visit.
After successfully breastfeeding her son for months, he suddenly began rejecting breast milk. After having difficulty pumping while pregnant with her daughter Ast, Mercado worried that her son wasn’t getting enough fluids and, took him to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. There, after taking appropriate proactive measures to ensure her son was getting the nutrition he needed, she was accused of “purposefully malnourishing” her son in an “act of neglect”. The physician in question, who accused Mercado of neglecting her son despite actively seeking medical attention for him, Sally Smith MD, has also been involved in various controversial cases resulting in misguided abuse allegations.
Mercado is one of many Black victims disproportionately accused of child neglect and abuse by CPS. Her story, among many others, has shed a light on a long-running bias against BIPOC families that exists within CPS.
Here, we see that the true danger of this Boogeyman doesn’t just rest in the accusation. The accusation is only the beginning. BIPOC families must then wrestle with time lost, trauma, the court of public opinion. The true danger of this Boogeyman is in the irreparable damage caused by his discrimination.
While white America may not think twice about being pulled over, going to the doctor, or simply walking down the street in their own neighborhood, the reality of being BIPOC in the United States creates a different kind of beast. Concern that taking a child to the doctor could result in being permanently separated from them, creates a system of fear and distrust. This system manifests itself in higher infant and maternal mortality rates for black women and unhealthy BIPOC communities who avoid preventative care. It’s this distrust that prevents people from seeking help, from getting vaccines, and from adhering to any health guidelines that could not only protect their family but also their community.
In Danielle Broadway’s “CPS Has a Systemic Racism Problem — and Black Parents Are Losing Their Children Because of It” she writes: “Having Black children removed from their homes and handed over to an anti-Black institution with no regard for their worth renders the children disposable and desperate to find ways to survive, often leading to illegal acts with hopes of social mobility and humanity. The cycle of mass incarceration often begins with the destruction of Black families at its core”. This, simply put, is one of many power moves by the hand of a system that often coincides with the prime ideals of White Supremacy, yet still refuses to acknowledge it exists.
There is a Boogeyman we seldom talk about. A boogeyman whose weapons are hidden in court orders, whose henchman are dressed in white coats, and whose security is the constitution. This is a boogeyman whose defeat rests in the decolonization of institutions in America. It rests in the awareness of the complex structures that continue to oppress and suppress these communities as a whole. His defeat rests on a curriculum encompassing the ideals of critical race theory, more accurately defined as history, that can act as a fundamental step in acknowledging the inequities that surround our daily lives, but that some have the privilege to ignore. It rests in the acknowledgment that CPS is one of many systems that aid in the oppression of minority groups in America, and its hope at actually protecting children is dependent on it becoming antiracist — not antiblack.
Ace, Angela, and Madison