Donald Trump, at some point during his visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, was shown a pair of manacles designed to shackle a child. His quoted response to the horrors conjured by the cruelly shaped metal—“That is really bad”—was roundly criticized as insufficient.
Which, of course, it was.
No response could ever do justice to the cosmology of suffering symbolized by that one set of chains. But much of the outcry over Trump’s laconic reaction derived from the fact that these were handcuffs designed for a child’s hands. The implication was that these small manacles elicited an exceptional form of atrocity, beggaring belief at the United States’s past cruelty in a way that adult-sized manacles would not.
The impulse to show Trump the child’s shackles, and the attention paid to his reaction to them, reveals how profoundly the prospect of child slaves robs us of the capacity to respond appropriately.
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