I argue in this paper that the violence of black slavery and its afterlife in modern antiblackness are a function of western misopedy, or a deep enmity toward children and childhood based on the child’s lack of speech and reason. Almost without exception, western intellectual traditions have situated the child as a link between the animal and human and, accordingly, as the degraded object of naturalized violence, subordination, and labour. In the early modern period, chattel slavery of African people came to be understood as both natural and obligatory through their conceptualization as dependant, querulous children. Black skin became a visible and permanent marker of civilizational childhood, the source of black experiences of natal alienation and social death. Although black peoples have been granted formal legal equality, black skin is still experienced by white society as a paternal call to impose order and discipline through force.
In the early 20th century, in an effort to spare white youth from the imperatives of misopedic violence, but also from an association with the undignified condition of the “child races,” white children came to be extended the presumption of innocence traditionally reserved for white adults. In effect, under the rubric of child protection and child welfare, white youth were partially rescued from the misopedic order through their qualified legal and political reconceptualization as adults. Liberatory movements were then compelled to affirm rather than challenge the misopedic order, as black people struggled to prove their humanity and capacities for political agency by demonstrating that they, too, are capable of cultivating adult capacities for speech and reason. I conclude that theoretical contributions to abolition and decolonization must include fundamental challenges not just to racial discourses but to their sources, both material and conceptual, in the violent degradation of children and childhood. Challenges to settler colonial whiteness require a rethinking of how we privilege speech and reason in our conceptions of both the political and the human.