I was pushing the boys on the swings at our favorite park one day when a kid ran up carrying a gun. The boy was maybe ten years old. He was white. He had blond hair that was short and fuzzy. And oh, I should probably mention, the gun was a toy.
I don’t remember if the gun had the orange tip identifying it as a toy. It didn’t jump out at me if it did. I do remember that it was one of those toys that was designed to look somewhat like the real thing rather than an obvious play thing. It looked like a small rifle.
The boy ran past us towards the climbing equipment, chasing after his brother or friend. I watched for a few moments as he chased various kids around, pretending to shoot, ducking behind pieces of playground equipment for cover.
The whole thing made me uneasy and uncomfortable. I looked around to see if any other parents felt the same way. I didn’t notice any reactions. Everyone had their parent poker face on. To be fair, that’s the playground protocol. As parents, you don’t react to anything other kids are doing. Rather, you store up your reactions and unleash them in a torrent of snarky remarks in the Facebook comments section of Huffington Post Parents articles. I followed the protocol as well.
In general, that’s the right thing to do. The not reacting to the behavior of other children part, not the snarky Facebook commenting part. Facebook commenters are the worst. It’s best to stay out of other people’s business if no one is in danger.
All I did was text my wife about it and quip that at least the kid was white, so I guessed it was okay. I’m totally cool with snarky texting, just to be clear.
I needed to complain to someone because the moment the kid rushed past us, I thought about Tamir Rice. Mind you, this was well before the announcement that there would be no charges brought against the police officer who shot and killed the 12-year-old who was playing with a toy gun in a park.
I thought about my experience again the night the announcement was made that there would be no charges against Tamir Rice’s killer.
First, I thought about how messed up we are. Really, how messed up are we?
How messed up is it that police killing a 12-year-old with a toy is deemed to be if not acceptable, at least an unavoidable mistake? How messed up is it that authorities publicly stated that the child was big for his size? As if that was some kind of justification.
How messed up is it that, far from being an isolated event, this type of misjudgment and coded racism is in fact systemic? Research suggests that black children are viewed as “older, less innocent than whites.”
It’s really messed up. For anyone that’s been paying attention, it’s not surprising, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach.
Next, I thought about privilege. I think about privilege a lot. I read about it. I believe in it. (As if it’s something you could believe or not believe in, as some would argue. As if it were a matter of opinion.) In other words, it’s something of which I try to be aware.
Yet, the thing about privilege is that, by its very nature, if you have it, it often makes you blind to its presence. If not for the timing, I probably wouldn’t have so readily appreciated that a white kid brandishing a toy gun at a crowded suburban playground is a microcosm of privilege. The boy’s parents and the rest of the (mostly white) parents and children at the park that day didn’t have to give a child playing with a toy, no matter how questionable in theme or taste, a second thought. As it should be. For every parent and child.
But, the sad reality is, if you look a certain way or live in certain places, you are not afforded this privilege. I don’t claim to have any solutions to this problem in mind. Awareness is nice, but awareness alone won’t save the life of a child or achieve justice for those whose lives have already been stolen. I wish I could do more. So far, wishing for a kinder and fairer world isn’t working.