Commentary: A Tale of Two Children

wfj-graphic.jpgRecent news stories about two children of God send mixed messages. The first depicts U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, 32, with a cloak of innocence. Rio 2016 Spokesman Mario Andrada dismissed Lochte’s alleged vandalism and altercation with security in Rio as child’s play.

“Let’s give these kids a break. Sometimes you take actions that you later regret. They are magnificent athletes,” Andrada said during a press conference. “Lochte is one of the best swimmers of all times. They had fun. They made a mistake. It’s part of life. Life goes on.”

Here’s more proof our unique brand White male privilege can, indeed, be exported. Let’s juxtapose #LochteGate with 5-year-old Omran Daqueesh’s story. There’s an obvious difference between Lochte and Omran — Omran is actually a child.

A photographer captured an image of a bloodied and injured Omran sitting stoically after another attack on the Syrian village of Aleppo. Andrada thinks the young Olympians “deserve a break.” Well, Omran deserves a break from airstrikes decimating his hometown. Lochte lost sponsors, while a little boy lost his 10-year-old brother.

The child-like naiveté, which Lochte has leveraged, is a nonexistent commodity for Omran and many other children like him. Children of color in America don’t bask in such innocence either. It calls to mind the story of Jesus summoning all the children of the world to His side in Matthew 19:14. Jesus wasn’t talking about a 32-year-old man. The faces of Omran, Tamir Rice, and four little girls in Birmingham come to mind. Hatred and ignorance took their innocence and lives.  “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

Lochte’s poor choices damaged his character and bankability. Reducing him to a child shouldn’t absolve him of responsibility. Our patriarchal society is hard-wired to embrace the “boys will be boys” mantra, especially if it justifies white men’s bad behavior.

Tamir Rice was just a kid. Police officers still took his childhood innocence and his life. Airstrikes and drone attacks in the Middle East have killed countless children for years now. Why did it take Omran’s image to make us snap to attention?

Protecting a 32-year-old white man’s honor clearly became more important in our news cycle than daily carnage and destruction here at home and abroad. It’s become so important that those calling Lochte out are being targeted. NBC Today Show weatherman Al Roker, who is Black, highlighted how the Olympic swimmer “embellished” (to use NBC News personality Billy Bush’s term) his story. It earned him kudos on social media, but reports claim Roker’s getting blowback for being outspoken. Where’s the justice in using youthful innocence to gloss over one man’s misdeeds, while denying children of color the privilege to enjoy youthful innocence?

Learn more via the United Church of Christ’s new White Privilege curriculum:

Jason Carson Wilson is a Justice and Peace Policy Fellow.

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