Thinking Through Milanich’s Children of Fate in Contemporary Times

By Amanda Sommer Lotspike, MA candidate at CLACS

“No Charges Filed Against Off-Duty LAPD Officer,” the headline reads. A video shows a grown white man bearing a gun, clutching the shirt of a child. Another grown white man stands away with his hands in his pockets, while children rush to support the child, who is being dragged by the hands of the grown white man. In the news, the perpetrator’s name is concealed to protect his identity. As he walks free, two children are detained in the Orange County Juvenile Hall.

Today’s February 26. This weekend, forensics teams searched the periphery of the home of the grown white man to protect his private property from future damage. Today’s February 26, and five years have passed since Trayvon Martin’s death. His murderer, a grown man, still walks free. In response to the most recent shooting, The LAPD labor union releases a statement: “an officer has the right to self-defense no matter the age of the offender.”[1]

To talk about recognition and intelligibility under liberalism means engaging with the present. In our Introduction to Latin American and Caribbean Studies II seminar this week, Nara Milanich was invited to speak to our class on the topic of law, filial relations and the production of social inequalities in late nineteenth century Chile. In Children of Fate: Childhood, Class, and the State in Chile, 1850-1930, Milanich traces the paradoxes of liberalism and the ways in which transformations in civil law regarding the family actually re-instated social inequalities. Here, continuity with longstanding social practices rather than rupture, marks the trajectory of the liberal state. One example is the increasing secularization and growth of state power matched by a contradictory emphasis on private rights and personal freedom. Another more pointed example is the function of judicial authorities who characterized children as “too young to ‘determine the use of his person,’” yet acknowledged their self-determination.[2]

During class discussion we drew on contemporary examples of racialized, classed and gendered discourses that castigate certain types of child rearing, and which wield the legal classification of “child” (like “citizen”) as a tool to construct and reinforce social and political hierarchies. I thought about our discussion as I read the news headline today. I thought about the reach of state power in the form of an officer’s gun on a child, while the same state (the legal system) asserts the perpetrator’s private rights by protecting his identity. I thought about how legal definitions of childhood and adulthood fall away when a pillar of the liberal state is held up to scrutiny, when “an officer has the right to self-defense no matter the age of the offender.”

Notes

[1] No Charges Filed Against Off-Duty LAPD Officer, Anaheim Mayor ‘Deeply Disturbed’ By Video. February 23, 2017. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2017/02/23/anaheim-protest-arrests

[2] Milanich, N. B. (2009). Children of fate: Childhood, class, and the state in Chile, 1850-1930. Durham: Duke University Press, 123.

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