Lest you thought the systemic devaluation of Black people in America was a thing of the past, consider the case of Gerod Roth. Gerod Roth, a.k.a. Geris Hilton, who is white, took a photo of the adorable son of his Black coworker and posted it on Facebook, accompanied by racist comments from himself and others. The boy, whose name is Cayden Jace, is 3 ½ years old, and his mother Sydney worked with Roth at Polaris Marketing Group in Atlanta.
Taking a photo of a minor and publicizing it is egregious enough, not to mention without the parent’s knowledge. However, to exploit and attempt to dehumanize a child in such a blatantly brutal, offensive and degrading manner demonstrates how common racism still is in America.
Atlanta Blackstar spoke with Cayden’s mother Sydney Jade, and his grandmother, Susan Hardy. These two Black women want to set the record straight about Cayden and the Facebook incident, and to convey the positivity surrounding this child.
“He’s my grandson. He’s not deaf, he’s not mute, he’s not abandoned,” Hardy said regarding rumors which spread about Cayden over social media. She said her grandson is bright and loving, and advanced beyond his age. “His mother reads to him, and they go over the ABCs, so when we hear things like deaf, dumb and abandoned, our hearts are broken. It has been heartaching that my child and grandchild have to go through such hate, and for an innocent child–who [in] this day and age attacks a child?”
Hardy adds that the viral nature of Roth’s Facebook post has had serious implications for their family.
“All this hate came about,” she says. “And now my daughter and my grandson are across the nation. He put not only Cayden but Sydney in danger by posting Cayden.”
She also mentioned her concern about the exploitation and trafficking of children which takes place on the Internet.
“Our office is a small office, there’s only 10 people. We all hang out,” Jade said of her office, which she described as a tightly knit group.
As the Facebook post of her son became viral she was unaware until a friend brought it to her attention.
“I was really caught off guard, and the fact the picture had been posted September 16th, and he wasn’t fired until the 29th, and acting like nothing happened,” she says. “He just went about like nothing even happened. It went on for days, a week and a half before anyone found out it even existed.”
She adds that she’s grateful for her employer’s swift action once the post was discovered.
“It makes you feel good to know your boss has your back, even though he couldn’t do anything to prevent it,” she says.
Most of all, Cayden’s mother and grandmother wanted to focus on the positive.
“On Friday morning when this happened, I didn’t expect this massive outpouring I’d get in the next few days. I never in a million years expected it to be this massive,” Jade says. “If it has to start with us, I’m going to finish it. It was my son put in the limelight. And not only my son but a child, a 3-year-old, someone who can’t defend himself.”
Polaris acted swiftly in firing Roth, as others who made racist replies to Roth’s post reportedly met a similar fate from their employers.
Meanwhile, Roth’s Facebook post went viral, and the hashtag #HisNameIsCayden has received a great deal of traction on Twitter.
— ☥ Ife Johari ☥ (@IfeJohari) October 2, 2015
Cayden’s mother took to Facebook to comment on her son, the incident and the aftermath:
— ☥ Ife Johari ☥ (@IfeJohari) October 3, 2015
In addition, Cayden’s grandmother, Susan, weighed in on Twitter as well:
— ☥ Ife Johari ☥ (@IfeJohari) October 2, 2015
— CloreenBaconskin (@CloreenBacNSkin) October 4, 2015
A year ago, Jade and her son were in a car accident, during which their car rolled over six times. Yet, mother and child emerged relatively unscathed, leaving Cayden with a bruise on the neck and Jade, who had a concussion, walked away with a stitch on the knee and finger.
“I told Sydney God is trying to tell you something,” Hardy said. “If you had seen that accident, you would not understand how she walked away from that accident. She decided the next day that ‘I am walking on faith.’ Then, Sydney’s friend bought her a one-way ticket from Detroit to Atlanta.”
Hardy says the family is grateful for all of the support they’ve received.
“Sydney doesn’t get food stamps… she doesn’t get government assistance, she works hard to take care of her child,” she added. “Sydney is standing on her own. And as a single Black mother I can say I am proud she is standing on her own.”
The exploitation of Black children in America is nothing new, as it goes back to the days of slavery, when Black babies were used as alligator bait, as a video recounted on reunionblackfamily.com. Moreover, the negative marketing of Black children over the years has helped to paint them as the other in “popular media” and the public white consciousness, rather than as cute or adorable, as other children are depicted in the media. The grotesque stereotype of the pickaninny, the child version of the coon, with bulging eyes, exaggerated red lips and disheveled hair is one example. Books, films, cartoons, advertisements and even board games featured these humiliating and disempowering images of Black babies. In the twenty-first century, this negativity is perpetuated through social media.
If there is a positive outcome from this incident involving Cayden, it is the overwhelming response of Black Twitter and the Black community to this family, which feels besieged in the midst of racial hatred, yet is blessed with a gifted Black child. As Black lives are under threat in the streets, at the hands of police, in prison, online and every walk of life, Black children, sadly, are not immune.