Three girls are dead. Hundreds hospitalized. Meanwhile, the country’s trudging on like it’s any other Tuesday. One of the parents whose child is lying in a morgue has said that she doesn’t blame anyone, and this is equal parts heartbreaking and infuriating. Let’s talk briefly about what this tragedy reveals about how we were parented and how we parent our children.
Children obey your parents in the Lord…
For children who are socialized in the Christian religious tradition, this is one of the first memory verses you are taught, one of the first things that’s drilled into you in Sunday school. It seems so innocuous. Obey your parents. Obey those in authority over you. Until you grow up and realize that those with any kind of authority are often venal at best and outright wicked at their worst. Still, the lesson is often so deeply ingrained that disobedience is often not even a thought.
It’s why parents go along with the things teachers and school administrators decide. That child in you can’t help but submit to those in authority neither can the adult who has been socialized to honour and respect those in authority. The Ministry of Education comes up with an insane schedule with students starting classes as early as 5 and 6 a.m. in the name of catching up because of time lost during Covid. Parents, the well-trained children that they acquiesce, operating under the conditioning that people in authority, just like your parents deserve your obedience, and like your parents can ostensibly be trusted.
It’s the highest level of infantilization. Even as parents, we remain infantilized. Operating under this self-deception that the people in authority, like our parents, are looking out for us, making decisions with our best interests at heart. So we never question anything in the same way that questioning our parents was frowned upon, and considered disrespectful. Disobedient.
Also frowned upon is any heightened emotion. Few things are as annoying to adults as children expressing negative emotions like anger. You mustn’t be angry and if you somehow find yourself mad, you better not show it. Keep it together. Behave appropriately.
Three girls are dead and no one is losing their shit… not the parents of the deceased. Not the parents of the other girls who narrowly survived. Not the country. We must be respectable at all times. It’s how we set a good example for our children.
Someone on Twitter said if it was their child who had died, they would have burned the school down. Except we don’t do that. It doesn’t occur to us that we can reveal our displeasure, ever. We keep it together. We make sure we behave well. Are proper at all times. No anger, no acting in ways that communicate our fury and pain. If anything, we are not just to stomp down on our anger but if we can, we are to go as far as not assigning blame to anyone. It’s never anyone’s fault. We forgive. We accept. If we are religious, we take comfort in the fact that it is all part of God’s ineffable plan.
Part of keeping it together includes proceeding with business as usual. It’s why government officials and the school administration are already talking about the resumption of classes. Our children are not children, they are students. Little soldiers with a mission that must not be interrupted by anything, not their own illness, not a global pandemic and certainly not the death of their classmates and friends.
Capitalism must march on forward. All of us, not just our children need to be reminded that we are disposable, and that the system will keep chugging along even in our absence.
There’s no time, no room for pesky things like grieving and heartbreak. Not for the students, not for the teachers, and maybe not even for the parents depending on their class status. It’s a mere inconvenience we have to suffer through until we can go back to business as usual.
The principal, Fridah Ndolo, released an official statement that made no mention of the tragedy that was the death of those girls. What it contained however were instructions on what reports they would need to come back to school with. It assigned blame on the media for creating a toxic environment and yes, closed with a reminder that they would be in touch about the resumption of classes. Oh and sorry for the inconvenience caused. Sorry for the inconvenience caused.
Those three deaths and countless ill girls were a mere inconvenience. An interruption encumbering what we should be doing working, working, working and if we’re students, studying every minute of every day in preparation for being good workers who work, work, work and let nothing get in the way of that.
As children, we are taught to obey authority, behave appropriately at all times and not cause any trouble. We internalize these lessons and teach them to our children. What we end up with is an infantilized society where nobody protests anything, not the many injustices we and our children are subjected to and certainly not their deaths. We accept it all, we stay calm and do the right thing at all times, never blaming anyone and as a result never demanding accountability. So nothing changes. We tamper down our ‘bad angry feelings’ and ‘behave properly’. Even when we’re told we’re disposable, even when we’re denied the right to grieve our loved ones, even when our loved ones die or are killed. Until the next time. Again and again and again.
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