From Emmett to Tamir: Black Childhood Does Not Exist

by Kel Daroe

The New Year is always a time of hope. I sit and create plans to make myself, my community, and the world just a little bit better than it was before. I actively anticipate the ways in which my Black womanhood will unfold, revealing its intricate beauty to my family, lovers, friends, and most importantly, myself. It’s the time for wishes, aspirations, and magic.

This year, hope has been hard. In classic fashion, America has intently tried to capture the joyful community we have all been trying to create in the wake of Black economic collapse, racist political rhetoric, and the triggering videos of lives being snuffed. A while ago I called it Racial Injustice Fatigue. I’m fucking past the fatigue at this point; I am exhausted. Why am I exhausted today? Tamir Rice.
I was sitting at my desk, making moves in preparation for the New Year, and I got another call that would ruin my day. I should be used to it by now. Someone I love on the other end, sullenly whispers two words: the first and last name of another Black person who was murdered without consequence. Today it was Tamir Rice. Days ago it was Sandra Bland.

A little over a year ago a child was playing in the park with a toy in broad daylight and was unceremoniously gunned down by police. These are the facts that no one disputes. A grand jury has decided not to indict the officers involved even in light of suggested prosecutorial misconduct.

Sit with that.

It hits hard. Truly, if we all took the needed time to process the psychological impact of habitual ethnic slaughter, none of us would be able to function. But we have to. For some reason, this has hit harder than the rest. I thought I spent all day mourning because I needed a small sign that we could move beyond the police brutality, gendered violence, mass murder, and hate speech that has marred 2015. But that wasn’t it.

I am in mourning because someone murdered a Black child.

There is no greater assault to the self-actualization of Black women than the systematic murder of Black children. While, on some level, I have accepted the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of White vigilantes and police without consistent consequence, there is something about taking the life of a child that seems unnatural and morally reprehensible. How could you do that and get away with it? How could you kill a child?

But those officers didn’t believe they were killing a child because to them, Black childhood DOES NOT EXIST.

Living in a Black body makes even the youngest incapable of innocence. It’s why teenagers get murdered for playing music too loud or walking down the street or being alive. It’s why we can sentence boys who don’t even have pubic hair 25 years to life. It’s why Black teen moms are whores. It’s why Black children were still allowed and expected to work deep into the 20th century. It’s why ads for soda, fat and sugar can play non-stop on Black preschoolers’ television programs. It’s why when Black girls get raped, they bring it on themselves. It’s why Black babies have been taken away from their mothers for the last half a century. It’s why when Black boys get caught with weed it ruins their lives.

It’s why someone reported Tamir as a threatening twentysomething for playing with a FAKE gun in the park. Have you seen his face? He looks like he’s eight. Yet according to the county prosecutor, Tamir was so big and so tall, the officers had reason to believe he was an older, aggressive, towering, violent ape, and the toy gun looked real. Since Ohio has open-carry gun laws, and people can basically buy guns at Wal-Mart and carry them anywhere legally, the officers involved in the case were not indicted because the grand jury at least partially believed that TAMIR RICE WAS NOT A CHILD. But he most certainly was. He went to school and loved his mom and thought he could play in the park in the day time with his toy because THAT’S HOW CHILDREN THINK.

The erasure of childhood is just another component of structural racism’s dehumanization of black people. Privilege doesn’t stop it. What if President Barack Obama was a child in Rahm Emmanuel’s Chicago today? Would he still be eligible for the Presidency if he had been stopped with weed by New York City’s former Stop and Frisk policy during his time at Columbia? In today’s world, where activists and organizers are labelled criminals and treated with excessive force, how would that look to Harvard Law School’s admissions committee? This is a hyperbolic example, but it’s not something we can laugh off.

In America, Black children are often one step or mistake away from being barred the mirage of dignity and respect we barely have now. Yesterday’s no indictment is merely a flashback to the 1960’s and the times before.

Tamir Rice is our Emmett Till.

Photo: Associated Press

Kel Daroe is a writer and healthy equity warrior. She lives in Brooklyn with her dog Bernie. Follow her on Twitter @KelDaroe. 

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