Children: The Interplay Between Effigy and Paratext

A trend that I’ve noticed in the physical classroom so far is the problem of reading paratext out loud—some people skip over the paratext, while other people don’t. Paratext is outside the main body of the text, i.e. it is not central, but paratext is needed in order to complete a text. Paratext then, by nature, is peripheral but also necessary. This reveals a hierarchy in the physical pages of books—the main body of the book is imperative to read, while everything else is considered supplemental, which parallels how we frame Others in society—groups of people who are necessary but overlooked, and therefore, invisible. 

In my previous post I wrote about children as effigies, and in this I’d like to extend that argument to children as paratext and what that means for the effigy. Children, who are effigies representing their cultural forefathers, remember their ancestors while forgetting ancestral personal traumas. This effigy, embodied by children, remains as paratext because of the restricted autonomy of children. Guardians have power—both legal and domestic—over their children in the form of custody. Parents make decisions for their children at all times, and children, especially those who are very young, have no input in decisions that will affect them. Through this, parents control the shaping of their cultural future through making decisions for their children.

What happens, though, when natural disasters such as hurricanes strike? If the main body’s autonomy has decreased, the paratext’s autonomy hath thus plummeted even further. Children’s autonomy, therefore, has been restricted even further (this argument can be extended depending on the frame of analysis—I’m speaking of age as an axis of restriction, but this argument of overlooking of paratext could work for race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. depending on the context). During Hurricane Katrina, children were overlooked, especially those of color. The effigy processes of memory and forgetting are very much at play in the mainstream narratives of Hurricane Katrina—and among the forgotten are children and people of color.

On a physical level, children, particularly children of color, were among the displaced and voiceless. As seen in When the Levees Broke, homelessness disproportionately affected families of color, and schools in areas like the Ninth Ward were not open. Children of color were not advocated for, or funded by, the United States government because of their status as paratext. If children are simultaneously effigies and paratext, how do we recover their voices and empower them so they can be heard?

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