Can We Stop Calling Grown White Men 'Kids'?

Trump Jr. is an adult.
Donald Trump Jr. Not a kid.
Donald Trump Jr. Not a kid.
Mike Segar / Reuters

Either Donald Trump Jr. is a key character in possibly the biggest political scandal of our time, or he’s just a “kid” with good intentions, who simply didn’t know any better.

In the days following the Russian meeting controversy involving Trump Jr., there’s been an absurd though unsurprising attempt by some to lean on the latter narrative.

On Wednesday, one friend of Trump Jr. continued the trend of subtlety infantilizing him, telling The Washington Post:

“The kid is an honest kid. The White House should’ve never let that story go out on the president’s son … What he’s upset about was that it was a minor meeting and the media glare — anything that’s Russia-related, gets picked up the way roaches get caught in a roach motel.”

President Trump reportedly said of the scandal, according to reporter Jim Acosta, “He’s a good boy. He’s a good kid. And he had a meeting. Nothing happened.”

A satirical illustration on the cover of the latest issue of New Yorker magazine enforced this idea by mocking Trump Jr. as a naughty child about to be “grounded” by his disappointed dad.

This rhetoric is yet another example of how white men are constantly and conveniently positioned as children whenever they mess up. We’ve seen it with Ryan Lochte, and even more recently with former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Grown men, given the benefit of the doubt in situations where others would most certainly be dragged.

Yes, Trump Jr. is experiencing his fair share of (deserved) scrutiny over this incident, but the very fact that people including the president of the United States are defending him by using the word “kid” is still incredibly significant.

One could argue that this really just a question of semantics, that using “kid” is more colloquial than anything. But language, especially the way its used by politicians and within mainstream media, has a subtlety powerful way of conveniently shifting a narrative.

What makes this especially frustrating is that for people of color, especially young black men and women, the “just a kid” excuse is rarely ever an option. Research has shown that black boys as young as 10 are viewed by police as older and less innocent than white children, while a Georgetown Law Center study released in June found that black girls are seen as older and less innocent than white kids at as young as 5. Black kids simply aren’t allowed to be “kids.”

Meanwhile, Trump Jr. is 39 years old. Thats 22 years older than Trayvon Martin was when on the night he was killed. That’s 27 years older than Tamir Rice, who was shot by police while innocently playing in a Cleveland park. And that’s 25 years older than Raymond Santana was in 1989, the year he became the youngest member of the Central Park Five.

You know, the group of black and brown boys, ages 14 to 16, who Donald Trump famously said should be given the death penalty for a crime they didn’t even commit. Nobody was talking about how they were just kids in the wrong place at the wrong time back then.

Donald Trump Jr. is not just a kid, and his actions, therefore, cannot be chalked up to youthful naiveté. Especially considering the fact that his actions could make a serious impact on the future on American politics.

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