Gator-Babies, Homeland Security, and Seeing the World Differently

I got an education from my friend, yesterday. It was one more wake-up call to the fact that I am white and he is black and we see the world differently.

Being white means missing connections

We rarely talk about politics. Usually we talk about high jump, sprint form, and lawn care.

Yesterday, he made a comment about "45", referring to the US president. We talked a little about the investigations and the lies. When the conversation turned to the missing children separated from their parents when crossing the border, my friend then asked if I knew about "gator bait babies". It was a phrase with which I was unfamiliar. He saw a connection with the present mistreatment of children and a dreadful past.

 This was the least offensive image I found on the Internet when searching for gator babies.

This was the least offensive image I found on the Internet when searching for gator babies.

Gator bait babies demonstrate the spirit of evil and death which so easily infiltrates our world. The moral and cognitive dissonance is astounding.  During the period of slavery, children were chained or tied near shorelines of marshes and rivers.  So effective was this form of abuse in attracting alligators, the practices even survived after the end of slavery.  These children would be used as bait to attract alligators, whose hides were valuable for producing leather goods. The callous abuse of children was even popularized by "humorous" postcards during the age of slavery and after.

Ferris State University, in its Jim Crow Museum, maintains a historical archive of American racism.  The Jim Crow Museum provides the following description of gator babies being used as late as 1923:

The headline in the September 21, 1923 Oakland Tribune reads “PICKANINNY BAIT LURES VORACIOUS ‘GATOR TO DEATH. And Mother Gets Her Baby Back in Perfect Condition; Also $2”. In the article T.W. Villiers chronicles the entire process of using black babies as bait and how “these little black morsels are more than glad to be led to the ‘sacrifice’ and do their part in lurking the big Florida gators to their fate without suffering so much as a scratch.” Villiers is quick to point out that the babies are brought out of the “water alive and whole and come out wet and laughing” and that “there is nothing terrible about it, except that it is spelling death for the alligators.” In a strange twist, Villiers reports on the hunter’s attempts to rationalize the motivation of the alligators to ‘jeopardize every hope of life for a live baby, and in the matter of color, the additional information is vouchsafed that black babies, in the estimation of the alligators, are far more refreshing, as it were, than white ones.’
— https://ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/question/2013/may.htm

The terrorizing of small children has cultural precedence

I wonder, how deep is our antipathy toward the non-white, non-European, and non-affluent? I want to learn everything I can from my friend's comment, I do want to recognize that my mind would never have gone down that path.  I want to think, "our government could not treat children so badly". But my friend, from a different perspective, and being raised in a different cultural history, found the mistreatment of children as part of a larger historical theme, as not actually surprising at all.

We can speak of white privilege, identity politics, "playing the race card" and similar politically charged terms.  When we do so, we speak past each other. We don't hear what each person and community is saying and where their ideas come from.  But to be a part of a community, a culture with a long history of children being abused, denied dignity, violently mistreated for centuries, the news looks different.  And we who are not a part of those communities need to listen and learn from them.

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world

Jesus cares for all the children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus cares for the children of the world

Jesus came to save the children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They’re all precious in His sight
Jesus came to save the children of the world