The Luxury of ‘Childhood’: The Privilege of Innocence

On Saturday night, on the sidewalk at the side of my house, there was a fracas. One man was unhappy with and wanted something from another man, so he attempted to get it by force. There was a bit of yelling, a struggle and some attention from us and other neighbors. In the grand scheme of things, not a huge deal. They both walked away in separate directions, neither one hurt with no real bystander involvement at all.

In the crime reports given for my neighborhood at the monthly resident meetings, car break-ins, domestic disputes and drug activity are often the offenses mentioned. This might make some folks uneasy (and I must say, I was a little shaken by the ruckus this weekend), but as I sit here now, I can’t help but think that this tiny brush with “violence” is one of about 3 instances I’ve witnessed in my entire life. I thought about my daughter who was sleeping while this scene unfolded and how she, thankfully, has yet to experience anything like it, even after living in both Oakland & Baltimore for her nearly 2 years. Mostly, I didn’t want them to wake her up with their fuss.

And then, I thought of everybody else and their kids who aren’t so *lucky*.

For many folks, childhood is and was a time of magic and possibility, wonder and innocence. That little bubble is something to be cherished and protected. It seems a shame when kids start knowing a little too much or when they begin being realistic and more ‘adult.’ Adulthood comes with its perks as we all know (ice cream for dinner! no bedtime!), but there are some days when any adult might readily trade their life for a younger one without so much worry or stress.

The truth is though that there are many kids for whom this protected snow globe of childhood just doesn’t exist. There are plenty of young kids who have witnessed violence. There are plenty who are stressed by the situations in their neighborhoods, schools and homes. There are plenty who have seen the devastating effects of involvement with the police, the social service system and drug use. These very problems are no mystery to them. And for many of us, the privileged people who can afford to build these invisible boundaries for our kids, we would lament that the bloom has been rubbed off of their innocence far too soon.

I knew I was giving my kid a privileged upbringing already. I have the luxury (read: privilege) of staying home with her. I have been *blessed* (again read: privileged) to be able to take her to kid classes and fun activities during her little life. I am fortunate (ahem: privileged) that I can focus my energy on her and other interests in my life that don’t revolve around my feelings of environmental stress or anxiety. I’m lucky enough (…privileged) that I don’t have to worry about her general safety in our neighborhood (anymore than most Americans do living in this country of ours).

And I believe that most people would argue that every child deserves a childhood similar to hers. Every child deserves a period in life free from strain and stress, where innocence and play are all that’s required of them. But for many parents innocence means naïveté and naïveté means danger. So the childhoods of less privileged children, often minority, often poor, are truncated- some out of circumstance and some out of necessity.

It seems unfair that my husband and I can insulate our young child from the ills of the world while so many others don’t have that privilege. She can go on for a good long time, trusting us and the world that we encounter everyday. Because we both convey the same message: that she’s precious and acceptable and worthy of being taken care of. If only this were the message that every child received, while living in a safe neighborhood, in a safe house, blissfully unaware that their innocence is not a privilege anymore– because every child is privileged enough to be innocent.

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