I Know Your Secrets. And They Ain’t All Respectable.

On Tamir Rice, My Son and the Myth of White Respectability

 

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Think Progress released this facebook post on Saturday, June 25th, 2016 – the 14th birthday of Tamir Rice. 

Would have been 14 years old this year. 12 years old when he was murdered. Far too young to die. And at the hands of police gun violence no less – like countless others.
For this reason, I re-release this post today, because I haven’t forgotten your son, Ms. Rice. I haven’t forgotten.

I work in the field of behavior science. Simply put, I change people’s behavior for a living. I treat adults, but I specialize in treating children.

I specialize in treating aggressive behaviors and challenges of intellectual disabilities.

I have worked in many settings. When working in homes, my chief demographic is White middle to upper class families. What I do is not for the faint of heart. It requires unnatural levels of self-control and unemotional responding. While administering therapy, I have been bitten, spat on in the face, kicked, punched, called names, pinched, scratched, nails dug into my skin, things thrown at me, forcefully grabbed and more. One client I had – a preschooler – would get his toy gun, point it at my head and pretend to shoot it if he was angry. Even amongst the children without intellectual disabilities, I’ve frequently seen them engage in these behaviors and more. And this done mostly or entirely by beautiful White children.

Believe it or not, I do not say “beautiful” sarcastically one bit. These are children with difficulties of varying degrees, and I am there to help. It’s what I do, and I’m good at it. I’ve had the pleasure of serving over 100 children from preschool to the 8th grade across all socioeconomic levels, a myriad of races, ethnicities and cultures, including immigrant populations. And I have never failed to get results. God has gifted me with the education, in depth understanding of a complex science, skill, training, constitution, and spirit to do just that. White or otherwise, I love my clients and their families, and not in some way-off-in-the-distance way; I love them so much that compassion causes me to work through it all and even take a bit of a beating (temporarily) if the process requires it. And don’t you dare leave a comment about the parents – they love their children just like you do. Usually, by the time I’m brought in, that parent has tried everything they know and has been challenged to endure and deal with stuff from a child that would make the best of folks throw up their hands.

At times, I’ve spent so many hours in individual (White) family’s homes that I’ve felt like I lived with them. There before breakfast. Leave an hour or so after bedtime. And over time, an interesting thing happens: I don’t know if it happens because of the nature of the service I provide or because I’m in their personal space for so long and so often. Is it because I’m so personable? Or maybe it’s because of that inexplicable thing we all have that lets us know when someone sincerely loves us and poses no threat. Perhaps, they feel it, see that love when I’m in their presence. I don’t know the reason, but one thing is for sure about me in their homes – the longer I’m there, the more they forget that I’m there.

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47df-8de5-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.wAnd so it goes, my beloved White people, I know your secrets…and they’re not all respectable. White folks (as a cultural whole) and mainstream American media have always done an awful lot of lecturing to Black folks and other minorities on how to conduct themselves to make themselves worthy of human rights and humanity. But I’ve been the fly on your wall. I heard your thoughts. I watched how you treat your wives. Listened to your children. Observed your morals and your lack thereof.

Which is why I must confess that when I hear some White folks (and some Black folks, too) try to justify the police/authority-figure/vigilante murder or assault of Black and brown children, women and men by saying that “their [Black] parents should have taught them some respect” and “it’s their [Black people’s] own fault”, there are little fibers of my being that want to scream: I KNOW YOU! I KNOW YOUR SECRETS! I WORK IN YOUR HOMES! I’VE SEEN YOUR CHILDREN BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, ON PLAYGROUNDS AND IN CLASSROOMS! I WATCHED THEM SPIT AT YOU, PHYSICALLY ATTACK YOU, AND CALL YOU “STUPID”. THEY ARE NOT ALL PARAGONS OF RESPECTABILITY.

THEY ARE NOT ALL PARAGONS OF RESPECTABILITY.

I NOT ONLY WORK WITH YOUR CHILDREN, BUT BECAUSE I GRADUATED FROM ONE OF THE TOP PRIVATE UNIVERSITIES IN THE WORLD, I LIVED WITH YOUR CHILDREN. I WATCHED THEM EN MASS DRINK THEMSELVES SICK, THROWING UP ON DORMITORY HALL FLOORS AND STREET CURBS. AND IT WASN’T A RARE OCCURRENCE. EVEN STUDIES SHOW THAT BLACK COLLEGE STUDENTS DON’T DRINK AS MUCH AS WHITE COLLEGE STUDENTS. YES, YOUR CHILDREN DRANK AND DRANK UNTIL THEY COULD HARDLY REMEMBER THEIR FIRST YEAR OF SCHOOL OR WHO THEY SLEPT WITH.

I WATCHED THEM ORDER AND DEGRADE THE ELDERLY BLACK CHEF LIKE HE WAS A CHILD. I’VE HEARD THEM CONFESS IN HUSHED TONES TO KNOWINGLY UNJUSTLY RECEIVING GRADES – As and Bs – FROM PROFESSORS. I WORKED ON COUNTLESS GROUP PROJECTS, THE ONLY PERSON OF COLOR IN THE GROUP…AND THE ONLY ONE WITH ANY QUALMS ABOUT LYING OR CHEATING ON THE PROJECT.

I’VE EVEN WATCHED THEM SPEAK TO PEOPLE IN AUTHORITY WITH UNRESTRAINED VITRIOL IF THAT AUTHORITY FIGURE DARED NOT BEND TO THEIR WILL.

UNEQUIVOCALLY, WHITE CHILDREN OF ALL AGES CAN BE AND ARE JUST AS VIOLENT, DISRESPECTFUL, UNRULY, UNKIND, DISOBEDIENT TO AUTHORITY AND SOCIALLY INAPPROPRIATE AS ANY CHILDREN OF ANY OTHER RACE.

…watched them speak to people in authority with unrestrained vitriol….

My body has born pain and bled from physical wounds inflicted by young beautiful White children. White children are not more respectful. They just aren’t punished in various environments for these behaviors in the same way.

You see, when White children do such things, they receive disapproving looks (maybe), and the authority figures in their lives tend to do things like call behavior analysts or give them the benefit of the doubt. They suspend, expel, murder and jail Black children for the same offenses (and that’s not my opinion – that’s facts from sheer number crunching; data). Matter of fact, this thing is so twisted that there are studies indicating that Whites, specifically teachers and police, often don’t even perceive Black children as children, consistently viewing them as adults or years older than they are.

With my own son, I’ve been blessed. He is gentle and sensitive. Always has been. It is his nature. Sometimes to my dismay, I’ve seen him receive some pretty rough treatment and wished he’d just get fed up and tell the kid to leave him be. But he doesn’t. He forgives and restores without wisdom or thought to himself. A blessing and a fault. He has no academic problems. In fact, he is two grade levels ahead. He’s not arrogant or proud about it, either. 

5 Year Old Doing Advanced Math

5 Year Old Reading Above Level

He is careful and pragmatic. Typically, he doesn’t retaliate or even defend himself past a loud “Stop it!”. He has a very strong internal compass when it comes to right and wrong; He looooves Jesus, can expound on scripture with insight and wisdom, and actually has a desire to be a doer of the Word.

5 Year Old Expounding On Scripture

He’s a super happy-go-lucky 6 year old that adores reading chapter books, is passionate about animal life, and loves to love. He’s not perfect, but truly, that about sums him up.

So, when I read the news, there is something I can never ignore: I look at the children I’ve served, and I remember the rage I’ve seen in the faces of White children (and other races of children, too, but right now I’m just talking about the White ones which make up the majority of my in-home clients). I remember the preschool, kindergarten, first grade and on up aged children, the children with no intellectual disabilities and those with, hitting, punching, biting, cursing, kicking, destroying property, scratching, spitting, chronically refusing to follow parent instruction. I remember the countless times I’ve left work with a mark on my body, sweat on my brow, because I had to restrain (which I am certified to do) a child from causing physical harm to himself and others…a White child, on most days, engaging in behaviors that are literally against the law after a certain age (something I have sometimes struggled to make their parents understand).

And I can’t help but think, in fact my mind struggles to wrap itself around the fact, I’ve even cried out to God about it: HOW IS IT THAT MY SONMY advanced reading, Jesus-loving, generally obedient, tender-hearted, passionate about animals, so gentle he won’t even defend himself half the time SON(!!) IS MORE LIKELY TO BE PERCEIVED AS A THREAT BY POLICE OFFICERS and society than the sons of my clients?!? My son who does not engage in threatening behaviors over sons who do…and for no other reason than his skin tone?!?

Full Disclosure? Sometimes, I look at this precious extraordinarily brilliant boy and tears fill my eyes, because-because HOW?? How can this be? How can this remarkable gentle child be seen as…anything other than what he is?! And why in the world does this colorblind-we’re-not-racist-nation see no problem with my son being perceived as a problem long before he is perceived as a person of possibilities? And if you really do see everyone as equal, why are you so comfortable with a country that is more competent at hunting down and providing privately owned prisons for whatever brown boys they don’t kill on sight than they are at providing them with quality education?

While others’ sons revel in their freedoms as Americans, toting guns like knapsacks, I must teach my son and daughter the fine print of freedom, written expressly in shades of Black and Brown, expertly hidden from White readers so that they will not recoil in disgust at their country, so that they will not recoil in disgust at themselves (in many cases), so they will perpetuate the myth of freedom for all, so Black and White can walk together in the mist, one never understanding or seeing why the other is crying out in the murk and darkness, doubled over in pain from fresh, bleeding 400 year old wounds.

And right now, my spirit is grieved. For my son and daughter. Grieved for those of us who have long accepted this truth of the world we live in. Grieved for those for whom this truth will never be self-evident…that all men are not treated as equal.

‪#‎TamirRice‬ ‪#‎Tamir‬ ‪#‎MsRiceImSorry‬ I’m so very sorry. Lord, comfort her and help her to have peace.

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