Posted on Wednesday, January 7th, 2009 at 12:15 pm
Author: Feature Writer
Gc contributor: Renee Martin
I was watching CNN the other day when I learned that John Travolta had suffered a personal loss. It seems his sixteen year old had a seizure and died in the bathroom. The loss of a child is something I think that no parent ever really gets over. The natural order tells us that our children will outlive us, and that they will be our living legacy. From the moment a child is born we spend our lives watching over them, nurturing them and protecting them. Life is finite, and for many, people children provide hope.
I watched as network after network aired updates to this story until I found myself asking, of all the children living on this planet, what made this child so important that his death requires grieving on a national level?
Doctors and acquaintances were interviewed in an effort to secure a connection with the viewing public. I realized that we are meant to weep for this child that we do not know. Jett Travolta is valuable, not for anything he has ever done, but because he is the child of a rich, successful white man.
The continual media coverage of his death as a singular loss to the western world speaks of the way we have allowed a hierarchy of persons to determine which deaths are mourned and which deaths are ignored.
Had his name been Shamar we would not have heard of his passing.
Had his skin been brown, red, or yellow, we would not know his name. Had he grown up in Chinatown, or on a reservation, he would have been deemed part of the surplus population. When underprivileged children die it is considered a relief because then it is one less person to consume the earth’s valuable resources.
We are facing major problems in the oil indistry, the malls in the urban centers are empty, and the homeless rate is rising along with the rate of burglaries. In times of economic downturn it is the poor that are most affected. The invisible underclass that we march by daily on our way to earn a living, know that they have long since been forgotten.
We think, “go out and get a job,” but there are little subsistence-level jobs to be found. We don’t think that behind the man or woman begging for money there might be a child at home hungry and forlorn.
Daily, the government is attempting to claw back the reproductive freedom of women with no thought to the children that already exist. Not every child will be born with the last name Travolta. Not every child will have the shield of whiteness and class privilege to protect them from the evils of this world.
We have broken our social contract with the children that we bring into this world. We offer them a legacy of a planet that is ill and dying. We are bequeathing them a society that is so concerned with constructed values that we have lost sight of how precious life is.
We whisper little clichés, attend fundraisers, and speak of a better tomorrow, but we are not truly committed to a change. The hierarchy remains like an immovable obelisk within our midst, reminding us that only certain bodies matter.
Is Jett Travolta any more important than the Palestinian children whose school was bombed by Israel yesterday? Is he more valuable than the children that will walk miles to avoid becoming child soldiers? Does his death move your heart more than the child who is dying of a perfectly treatable disease? What is real tragedy in this world, and who decides when we must feel pain?
All children are not created equal. No matter the lies we tell ourselves about how much we value the innocence of childhood, we turn our backs on the death rattle of infants because their lives are inconvenient to either our geo-political objectives, or our desire to maintain racial hegemony. What counts is money and power, and children have neither. A child’s worth is determined by the womb that bore them and not the potential that they might offer the world.
Have we already slaughtered countless philosophers, scientists, doctors, artists and inventors simply because we refuse to see the potential of all children? Whose tears fall on the small nameless graves but the mothers’? As the earth swallows our unwanted little ones, I cannot help but wonder if it silently embraces the little corpses with pity in death, because we refused to do so in life.
As the media continues its onslaught commentary on the Travolta tragedy, I cannot help but wonder how many children of color have gone missing in this time period and why we do not know their names? How many children have died today as soldiers fighting a war they cannot possibly understand? Finally, how many children will weep bitter tears today because the adults who claim to want a better world fail to make all children a priority?
It is not enough to look at a world vision commercial and feel momentary sadness. The distended bellies and the salty tears will not disappear because you took a moment to shake your head and perhaps donate five dollars to the cause.
As much as I feel for the Travolta family in their time of ultimate sorrow, I know that I am only aware of the name Jett Travolta because he was a child of privilege. Perhaps instead of weeping for those who have so much to begin with, we need to cry for those that we have forgotten. From the barrios, to the reserves, to the ghettos, to the slums, to the jungles somewhere on this earth – a child is in agony. Will we ever begin to heal the pain that we have brought upon the innocence of this world?
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