Tamir Rice was shot and killed by the Cleveland police for the "crime" of playing with a toy gun, and being black and male. Tamir was 12 years old. He is a child. Nonetheless, Tamir joins a long list of African-Americans, both younger than he, as well as much older, who have been killed every 28 hours by the police in the United States.
Gambling is ostensibly a habit of adults.
Tamir, like so many other black and brown children who are killed, arrested, and harassed by the police in the United States, lost to the odds in a life and death game where black men areat least 21 times more likely to be killed by the police than their white peers.
Young Mr. Rice joins a long list of black males who were killed for the crime of being black and alive and "suspicious": thus, they are made the "natural" targets of the police. Tamir was 12-years-old; he is now an adult from the moment he was "swatted" by a 911 caller, when the police decided to kill him without warning, refused to give him first aid assistance, and his dead body was added to the panoply of white on black victims of murderous violence by police.
Tamir was a child made into an adult when white racial paranoia and incompetence saw a 12-year-old with a toy gun as a grown man. Of course, 12-year-old white boys with toy--as well as real--guns are viewed as default angels, wrapped in and projecting white innocence. The chimera of whiteness as innocence persists even as these same white boys may be plotting to murder their schoolmates, neighbors, and parents by the dozens.
Once again, the White Gaze and white privilege are powerful intoxicants that numb the reasoning and thinking processes of too many of our white brothers and sisters.
Tamir is also a child made into an adult for the purposes of legitimating and rationalizing how 2 white police officers shot and killed him shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday.
He is part of a long chain of white on black murder by cops, lynching parties, pogroms, and state sponsored execution in the United States.
The social logic of infantalization, adultification, and niggerization ties this long and ugly history together.
Niggerization debases black humanity as something other and less than as viewed through the White Gaze: it is a state of existential terror, vulnerability, and being subject to random (white) violence.
Infantalization is the cultural logic that makes adults into children for the purposes of writing them out of the liberal democratic polity as full citizens. Infantalization is the Republican Party's rhetoric that black folks--as opposed to being sophisticated and rational political actors--are dumb, stupid, and stuck on a Democratic "plantation". Infantalization also drives the new Jim and Jane Crow in the form of voter demobilization, restrictive voting laws, and the Supreme Court's neutering of the Voting and Civil Rights Acts.
Adultification steals away the innocence and vulnerability of black and brown children. Race and childhood are social constructs. Historically, white racial logic has not allowed black and brown children the luxury of innocence or vulnerability. This has deemed that black parents give their children "the talk" about how not to be executed by the police.
In another era, the stealing of black childhood innocence took the form of learning the formal and informal codes of Jim and Jane Crow and the slave labor camp. The training and socialization of the schoolroom is a process through which black children are made into adults.
There, white children are "precocious" and "full of energy". Black children engaging in the same behavior are miscreants, trouble makers, and thugs in training who should be expelled, put in special education and remedial classes, or in jail.
How we who are black and American and have survived the triad assault from the forces of infantalization, niggerization, and adultification with our sanity intact is a testimony to the enduring power of The Black Freedom Struggle, as well as how we black folks are a hardheaded and determined group of people.
White supremacy and white privilege nurture moral rot and hypocrisy: one of history's great ironies is how White America has manifested all those failings along the color line while black and brown folks have maintained an even keel as they were assaulted by white madness.
As comedian Chris Rock recently explained in a much discussed interview:
“Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before...
So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t.
The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people."”
The gun, and which groups possess the power to assert their will on others through gun violence, is central to the color line in America. The gun is at the heart of the Herrenvolk white democracy that Chris Rock so brilliantly exposes as ethically wanton and possessing debased values.
For example, if a white child was shot and murdered under the same circumstances as Tamir Rice the white racial frame would default to how this is a tragedy, one that is unfathomable and cannot be explained by appeals to normal logic. The police officers involved would shamed, defrocked, arrested, and run out of town.
America's historical and cultural script instead views the same scenario--where the key difference is the color of the person killed--as a puzzle with a simple solution. Tamir, or Michael, or Trayvon, or John Crawford, or Darrien Hunt, must have done something to incite and provoke their own murders by either white cops or white allied street vigilantes.
Here, blackness is a decision rule for how too many of our fellow white brothers and sisters reason backward to explain how the police (and others) are somehow right and just in shooting dead the Black Body. My use of the term "Black Body" here is intentional: white on black police violence is an attack on black people as individuals, but also on the black community, as well as against the power and symbolism of "blackness" in the white collective imagination.
Spectacular lynchings of African-Americans fulfilled this function in late 19th and early 20th century America. Stand Your Ground laws and murder by cop fulfill a similar role in the post civil rights era and the Age of Obama with its "post racial" fictions.
The gun is an object of worship for the White Right. They feed their own white babies and children to the gun god Moloch because the fetish object that is the gun has such a powerful pull over their emotions and thinking.
Individuals' political belief systems are complex and contradictory. Authoritarianism, conservatism, Right-wing partisanship, gun ownership, support for Stand Your Ground and concealed carry laws, and anti-black affect are highly correlated.
In the case of the Gun Right, does a love of guns--and the symbolism of the gun be it from a real or toy weapon--override anti-black racism and sentiment?
The Gun Right is the central phalanx of American movement conservatism. Conservatism and white supremacy are unitary in post civil rights era American politics. Consequently, macro level white supremacy and anti-black affect create the broad contours within with conservatives, and the White Right, more broadly, try to rationalize the killing of innocent and unarmed black people by white police and their allies in the United States.
To point. The "polite" white supremacist "news" and commentary site American Thinker has offered up a typical White Right-wing take on the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by the Cleveland police:
Where were Mom and Dad?
Are the parents' personal histories relevant? In cases like this, those in the mainstream media like to blame society, poverty, racism, Republicans, and, of course, the police. So fair is fair. If cops' addresses can be published in the New York Times and their lives put under a microscope, then the egg and sperm donors of the young Tamirs who end up getting killed are fair game. After all, Tamir wasn't carrying a book home from the library; he was carrying and aiming an Airsoft pistol with the orange tip removed.
Somebody thought it looked real enough to call 911, and the rest is just a tragedy all the way around.
Tamir's life from the beginning seemed to be pretty tragic...
Who watched over Tamir while all this was going on? Grandma, Uncle Sam, or both? If the cop used poor judgment, what about the parents? Maybe if the corrupt, money grubbing race-baiters spreading lies about white privilege and racist cops would shut up, the so-called mothers and fathers in the black community abandoning their kids to the streets would actually care about them before they end up dead.
Blaming Tamir Rice for his death, and then using such a tragedy to smear and defile the black community and black peoples' families, has been echoed by Right-wing trolls and bigots across the Internet.
Symbolic racism, and conservatism as white supremacy, dictate what is a tired and repetitive script.
Drilling down, how does the Gun Right, as seen on one of its websites, "Bearing Arms",discuss Tamir Rice within and relative to that framework?
The comments on Bearing Arms are a mix of disgust at the behavior of the police officers who killed Tamir Rice, musings about an American public that has "unreasonable" fears of guns, and racist talking points such as the following:
I watched the same video. This Kid was walking back and forth pulling the gun out and pointing it at people. The police received calls about "A Man with a Gun". The video supports that call. The problem BOB. Is NOT with police or the placement of their patrol car. NO BOB! The problem was the total lack of PARENTING and instruction from MOM and DAD! This child should have been told: 1.) NEVER point this gun at ANYONE! 2.) Respect others especially Police and Teachers. 3.) Don't try and scare or intimidate people with this Gun. If any of those three simple rules were taught, Tamir would still be alive today. So, go ahead, blame the cops. When we both know it is the PARENTS fault!
Authoritarianism also colors how the killing of Tamir Rice is understood:
Well, unfortunately is not the first case and it will not be the last, and I think the bigger question here is not how many other kids have to die, but how many parents will actually pay attention and educate their kids about toy guns or guns in general, and more importantly how many parents will teach their kids to have respect and follow the instructions given by a member of law enforcement. - Sometimes society understands too late, that the underlying reason is not a trigger happy cop whose life is on the line on a daily basis, but the lack of accountability as parents to forge their kids in the right path of becoming law abiding citizens.
America's addiction to killing black people is the nexus of violence and race.
Race and racial ideologies are central to American history, life, culture, politics, and present. They are not sideshows or outliers in the American story.
Of the several hundred comments about the killing of Tamir Rice at the site Bearing Arms, the fact that a black person would be treated differently than a white person by the police is mentioned by only one commenter.
One comment on a Right-wing gun website does not constitute a representative sample of white racial attitudes in the post civil rights era. In addition, gun obsessives are possessed by their fetish object. Thus, the gun (and their fear that someone will strip them of their magical object) creates a tunnel vision through which they view the world.
Conservatives are also prone to simple and binary thinking. Systematic thinking is very challenging and difficult for those on the Right. These factors make nuanced thinking that considers both individual level behavior and attributes within a larger systems of power a high barrier that contemporary American conservatives find hard to hurtle.
The inability/determined unwillingness of many white Americans to "see" racism and racial inequality is a recurring theme in the post civil rights era.
The colorblind racist comments on Bearing Arms are instructive because of what they reveal about how "race neutral" thinking blinds people to social realities. White people with guns are not going to be killed by the police or other authorities with the same haste and extreme prejudice as a black or brown person with a gun. A white person with a gun is a "patriot" or "open carry" enthusiast and "gun rights" activist. A black or a brown person with a gun is a "criminal", "thug", or "terrorist".
At sites such as Bearing Arms, and in post civil rights America, more broadly, racism and white supremacy are reinscribed and reinforced by racial erasure and the act of not discussing and acknowledging how white privilege and white supremacy impact life chances in a negative way for people of color--and also constitute a set of unearned advantages for whites.
In all, white racial "colorblindness"--be it from Right-wing symbolic racists or "Liberal" aversive racists--is far more dangerous than caricatures of the KKK or skinheads because it sustains institutional white racism and systemic inequality.
The essential David Theo Goldberg offers the following analysis of the problematic that is colorblind racism in the post civil rights era. It is incisive:
In the absence of race as a tool for identification, racisms - the perpetuated contemporary legacies of racially driven structures and their effects - float free of racial significance. They become literally meaningless even as especially vicious racist acts and expression proliferate all around us, as we have been witnessing. Race disappears, and racisms are "freed at last" of any constraint. Their perpetrators easily deny any racial intentionality, and charge their accusers with racial malice thus reversing the effective perpetration of "proper" racist expression to victims, their supporters and critics of more or less conventional racisms. The legacy of racism is deemed irrelevant to the present, with responsibility both for any occasional anomalous outbreak of racism - disconnected from any other - and persistent social disadvantage delimited to individual effort and its lack. Postraciality is the end of race, and in its wake the endless extension of unmarked and increasingly unremarked racisms.
Post Ferguson slogans such as "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" and "Black Lives Matter" are compelling.
But what of the larger existential questions in response to the killings of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, John Crawford, Darrien Hunt, and so many others, such as "how come black people are killed by the police for doing the same things as white people?" "Would Tamir Rice or Michael Brown be alive if they were white?" "Are black and brown Americans entitled to the same rights, liberties, and freedoms as white Americans?"
Those are challenging questions that few are willing to ask because the simple answer, that this is first and foremost a society founded for the benefit and privilege of "whites" over others on the opposite side of the color line, may be too much to accept, and impossible to reconcile within a multicultural American neoliberal corporate "democracy", one that still circulates lies about equality of opportunity and meritocracy.