Playing at violence
Image: A drawing made by a child at an art therapy session in the Central African Republic
I've been spending a few days doing work on my laptop in the cafe of a local cinema, mainly because it has free wifi, plug sockets, and a great line in seasonal soups.
This and last week I've been observing people (seemingly parents or relatives) taking small children to the cinema. Disclaimer: I am as aware as I can be that childcare and child-rearing is the hardest job in the world, and is often gendered, and not remunerated.
But today, a white guy brought his white child to the cinema, and the child was running around the cafe holding a toy gun and pretending to shoot people.
The security guard jested around with the child, and the staff looked on benevolently.
The father continued to blithely compose text messages.
Bearing in mind that 12 year old Tamir Rice lost his life for doing the exact same thing, I wondered, did this person not think "maybe I shouldn't let my kid run around in a public space thrusting a toy gun in people's faces?".
I'm aware that the solution to deeply-ingrained institutional and structural racism isn't just to 'not let your white child do the innocuous things black children get killed, beaten, or incarcerated for doing'- I mean, that'd severely limit everything your child could do, from driving with a broken tail light to using its phone in a lesson.
I suppose it just turned my stomach to see the warm cloak of white privilege draped around a child from such a young age.
I suppose it upset me to see a small white child 'playing' at a kind of violence that is very statistically unlikely to have real re-enactments in their later life.
I do understand that children are stubborn, and sometimes if the only way they will leave the house is if they can bring their sword, trident, and handgun with them (although one might wonder why a child is being given toy weapons to play with), then you might just let it happen because few humans have the energy to make every outing a battle.
But, in watching this child run around I was reminded of a conversation I had with a relative in Virginia last year, talking about teaching his (black) sons to drive in the US. He said that when they got in the driving seat, the very first thing he taught them wasn't how to put the car in gear and find the biting point, but that if a police officer pulls you over, to keep your hands absolutely glued to the wheel and to not in any circumstance get out the car unless requested to do so, otherwise you might be killed.
I was also reminded of the lecture many young black children have received at some stage in their lives about having to be 'twice as good' to do 'half as well' as their white counterparts.
I was reminded of being told that Caribbean people are stereotyped as being late for everything, and so I have to be super early for everything (although that one didn't really pan out).
In summary, I appreciate child-rearing is the toughest thing a person can do. But I also feel strongly that parents- and specifically parents of white children have an obligation to really interrogate the privilege their children are born with, and try and not be so unreflective as to let their child run amok with a toy gun in a public cafe, whilst the staff are laughing away and having a jolly time, and not calling the police.
By Leah Cowan