Poem: In Darkness
Creeping along a corridor
Peeking into each
And every room it finds.
It walks onwards
From one room
Joy, happiness, love
Ready to feast
A door opens
You are there, happy
It touches you
You die, frightened
Forever in solitude
Two things this month. Firstly the picture for this blog is one of the few I have of me when I was a child. Taken when I was maybe 4 years old, or younger even, what I sometimes see when I look at this photograph is how I am already a performer. I am already being taught how to appear non-threatening as a black boy in a world of whiteness; smiling sweetly, never angry.
The second things is it is rare for me to write anything even remotely resembling poetry on these pages, but these words above came to me whilst I was wrestling with the pain of my inner child. Its need to break free of the adaptive performative sailor outfitted straightjacket, and be loved for who he is, being one which has haunted my relationships since childhood.
So, the focus of this months blog is simple. It is an obvious statement that minority children living in environments not their own often find themselves having to adapt to a world which is not their own, a world where they are seen as a threat. This is where the loss of childhood comes in, with one means of adaptation being through the adultification process whereby minority children are more regularly treated as adults than their peers by those in power (Burton & Burton, 2016). This adultification can take many forms. For example, Cooke and Halberstadt (2021) recognised a link between adultification and anger bias with black children where the perception of black children as being more of a threat because of their emotions is more prevalent than those from white backgrounds. Even in the medical field, this adultification of black children was an issue. Baetzel et al (2019) saw adultification in the racism underpinning the needs of children undergoing operations where the minority children were black children are less likely to be offered support or to have recommended parental support when they are undergoing treatment with paediatric anaesthesia.
The adultification of black children is a common occurrence, and the loss of childhood is one cost of this absence of any meaningful childhood for said child.
Notes: Victorian England and its rules on parenting meant that children were often seen and not heard, that one had to know ones place in a world where the patriarch held prominence. This old cliché held a different angle when I was growing up. As a black boy, being below my father meant that there was no relationship. There was no interaction, no guidance, no help and assistance with any and all of the problems of growing up in a world not my own. I was often left to deal with the impact of bullying, or racism, of peer pressure, on my own.
The notion that as black people we feel no pain is one rooted in racism as old as slavery. From the worth of a slave being denoted by the amount of punishment it could take, to the supposed stories from the father of gynaecology where black women slaves where operated upon without any anaesthesia to the recognition that black children in nurseries were less in need of any kind of holding, cuddles, or hugs, the underpinning of the idea that blackness isn’t afforded the same nurture and care as the subject sits central to the black child’s experience.
This needs to be tied with two things. Firstly, the acculturation stress, where the stress of being acceptable involves the repression of ones own unmet childhood needs, so these are forced into the unconscious where they will act out unwittingly (Finch & Vega, 2003). Then there is the underlying racism with the ‘let the child cry it out’ narrative out of the parenting of the past 150 years is something which was often adopted by colonised families, and we see a double type of wound for black children. The cost to this has though been for some children that they were left with a sense of being abandoned. That their tears, their cries for food, holding and safety, were never going to be met. That they were alone. This abandoned child is where there are so many black people on their own in the modern era. That wounded part, unparented, denied a childhood of its own, is one which will act out its unmet needs in an adult relationship, often to their detriment. As Bright (2009) suggests, working with the abandoned child is important at this is where the wound sits most of all. The abandoned child has been left alone. The cost is solitude, the cost is self annihilation.
Notes: there are numerous papers which talk about the Adultification of black children. That instead of them being given the same rights and privileges as children from the subject culture, that they are often treated and seen as adults, measured as adults, and prosecuted as adults, a way well before they are mature enough or even ready. What is often not discussed is that we know this is coming. We know we live in a world where we will have to ‘grow up’ way before we want to. Where what is deemed immature or childish is measured out of us from a very early age. We know that we will have to abandon our own Inner Children in order to fit in with a world which has higher societal expectations and fears of us than for other minority groups. For us to be safe, the we have to sacrifice our own inner children on alter of age immolation.
There is a route outwards though. Knowing what it is to be a child is a phenomenological experience. Childhood is something we all go through. The varying ways this is encountered differs from culture to culture, but the love of a parent for a child as the earliest part of childhood is universal, for example. The ability to play, to imagine, to create, are all within that child. The child is therefore one of the oldest, purest and wisest archetypes of them all, which is something recognised by Jung in his writings (Jung, 1972).
So only by walking that long deep downward road, like Orpheus, can we ever hope to rescue and reparent the black inner child out of its transgenerational trauma of loneliness. As Fortune (2003) the wisdom of the inner child through Jung’s idea of the Divine Child, is something that cries out to be known, but is often blunted by the woundedness of the abandoned child. To stay with this wound, to truly be with it, although painful, is I believe a route towards accessing not only ones true creative routes, but towards a reparenting of our own wounded child separate from the abandoning transferential relationships we might seek out in the world at large. We are left because we were left. The only one who will stay with us is us. But to see this, to recognise this means we have to be brave enough to stay with our own inner child for long enough to experience its sadness, its rage, its loneliness and its brilliance.
Notes: The ultimate aim of the self-abandoned Inner Child is to look for a parent within any of its adult relationships. It knows that it has been abandoned, that it has had to grow up too soon, that it has unmet needs that still need to be fulfilled. The hatred of the projected parent who has been cast in this role though that this abandonment will still be acted out. The isolation, the sadness and solitude of those of us who walk alone in our later years will forever be replicated. But there is a way out, there is a way to divest ourselves of this cultural and racial inheritance. The mourning, the deep intense and excoriating exploration of the transgenerational pain of the archetypal Inner Child is a route forward. It is a route which contains connection not only to ourselves, but to those outside us who do want to love us. It is a pathway upon which we can walk towards our creativity, our spirituality and our will. It is through this tunnel that we learn to trust not only ourselves but our community as well. Solitude no more.
. It is who I am.
Baetzel, A., Brown, D. J., Koppera, P., Rentz, A., Thompson, A., & Christensen, R. (2019). Adultification of Black Children in Pediatric Anesthesia. Anesthesia and Analgesia, 129(4), 1118–1123. https://doi.org/10.1213/ANE.0000000000004274
Bright, G. (2009). Regression in the countertransference: Working with the archetype of the abandoned child. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 54(3), 379–394. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-5922.2009.01786.x
Burton, L., & Burton, L. (2016). Linked references are available on JSTOR for this article : Childhood Adultification in Economically Disadvantaged Families : A Conceptual Model *. 56(4), 329–345.
Cooke, A. N., & Halberstadt, A. G. (2021). Adultification, anger bias, and adults’ different perceptions of Black and White children. Cognition and Emotion, 35(7), 1416–1422. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2021.1950127
Finch, B. K., & Vega, W. a. (2003). Acculturation stress, social support, and self-rated health among Latinos in California. Journal of Immigrant Health, 5(3), 109–117. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1023987717921
Fortune, C. (2003). The analytic nursery: Ferenczi’s “wise baby” meets Jung’s “divine child.” Journal of Analytical Psychology, 48(4), 457–466. https://doi.org/10.1111/1465-5922.00408
Jung, C. G. (1972). Four Archetypes. Routledge.