13-year-old Target of Racist Attack

The Boston Globe ran a story last week (Oct.4) of an attack on an African American boy, 13 years old, during a supposedly friendly sleepover. The accused: three white boys, one 13 years old and the two others 12. The three are accused of burning the targeted 13-year-old in while allegedly using racial epithets. Here is the account from the Boston Globe article, in which they bury the lede, in my opinion:

According to the Secks [family of the boy who was attacked] and their lawyer, their son was invited to the sleepover birthday party by a 13-year-old friend. Around 4 a.m. on Aug. 27, the victim was about to use the bathroom when two middle school students grabbed him by the arms while the third attacked with an aerosol can he was using as a makeshift flamethrower, the family said.

When the can sputtered out, the attackers used a lighter, burning the victim on numerous places in his body, said Ozell Hudson Jr., the family lawyer.

“They were laughing at him and calling him the N-word,” Hudson said.

He added that the Secks believe the host parents were home at the time, as was the victim’s friend, but no one came to his aid as he shouted in pain.

“He screamed continuously,” said Hudson. “We are not talking about one or two burns here.” He said the child suffered nearly 20 burn marks over his body.

“My son, he trusted them until he was being burned,” said Seck. “They have evil minds, evil minds. It’s awful.”

Hudson said the three suspects have been charged with criminal civil rights violations, but he faulted Medford police for what he said was their failure to immediately treat the case as a hate crime.

Hudson said the boy told police that his assailants used the racial expletive against him, but that police did not include that information in their report. Seck is black; the three defendants are white.

It’s nearly unfathomable… you know, unless you’re familiar with the history of white racism in this country. Still, this kind of incident gives lie to the notion that children are somehow “racial innocents,” a popular notion among white liberals. As Rosa Hernandez Sheets writes in Multicultural Education, her review of Van Ausdale and Feagin’s book The First R:

[the authors] describe how young children (age 3 to 6) are socialized and socialize themselves to “do race.” They point out that young children are neither innocent of nor inexperienced in processing racially influenced information in ways that maintain and sustain a White dominant society. Van Ausdale and Feagin found that young children use racial terms, apply racial elements (e.g., skin color, facial features), and act in ways that are, at times, racially hostile and discriminatory. Adults, in these settings, are generally unaware or in denial state regarding these problematic behaviors. Believing that children are cognitively incapable of processing racial issues, they readily dismiss children’s ownership to these behaviors and maintain that young, innocent children merely ‘echo’ adult perceptions of race and racism.

Van Ausdale spent a year in a racially diverse daycare center observing how children interacted with each other and how they processed issues of race. Her adult position was dismissed by the children since she functioned without authority or role. Therefore, while young children often stop and/or adapt their behavior around adults, they continued their private behavior (unsupervised and/or corrected by adults) in their presence.

Like the (white) adults in Van Ausdale and Feagin’s research, the adults attending the sleepover did not clue in to the racial dynamics unfolding, and the intense, violent racism being enacted in their own bathroom. In a similar vein, the white progressive blogosphere is quiet on the racial violence front.


  1. Vanessa

    Similar to institutional racism, racism in children is also unnoticed and/or ignored. Children do adopt racist views. What’s sad is that not even shows addressing these issues help. the Disney channel’s THAT’S SO RAVEN had a special episode in which racism was discussed. A six year old girl from my neighborhood happened to catch that show and unfortunately picked up another lesson. She actually compared many of her friends to a paper bag and told them she won’t be friends with them if they were darker than the paper bag. Her mother of course was shocked, since she herself wasn’t a racist and asked the little girl where did she pick this up. Then, she remembered the episode from THAT’S SO RAVEN and remembered that the pretty little girl in the show mentioned that comparison. Unfortunately, my neighbor’s child did not perceive the lesson from the show of how hateful such a comparison is.
    If a disney channel episode can not accurately address the issue, at least on one child, what else can be done?


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