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Rights of Passage in America: Keeping the Peace

Tamir Rice was twelve. A twelve year old boy holding an Airsoft, sitting on a swing at 3:30 p.m. in broad daylight was shot not two seconds after officers arrived at the scene. He died the following day. “The talk” for black children in America is not about the birds and the bees. It is about something much darker and scarier that most children do not want to consider: police brutality. 500 people had already been killed by police in 2015 alone as of June, and the numbers keep rising.

The last thing parents want is for their child to become a statistic. Black children don’t stand a chance against the system, and their parents know this. Thus, they are given “the talk” that, as Robert Stephens of Kansas City, MO puts it, “has more to do with survival than respectability politics.” Don’t wear a hoodie, even if it’s cold outside. Don’t talk back- don’t even answer any questions. Don’t even fight back if they’re beating you. Always keep your hands where they can see them.

All of these and more are common themes when talking to children about police brutality. Stephens wrote about one of his stories regarding “the talk”: “My nephew is 13 years old, half my age. When he was 11, we were at a grocery store in Durham, N.C., and he was being goofy per usual. I pulled him to the side, looked him in the eye and explained to him that when he’s in public, especially when around white people, he had to avoid drawing attention to himself because, as a black boy, anything he did was likely to be perceived as menacing and deserving of punishment (even death).

He nodded and we quietly finished shopping. “It was ‘the talk,’ much like my father had given me—and it should not be a right [sic] of passage. I’m pretty young, and I’m already tired of having to give black kids ‘the talk.'” At some point, people of color realized that no matter how well-behaved they are, they will not overpower the system. Sadly, there is no other option than to keep the peace. But what is peace without social justice? Now, we must ask ourselves, when did this survival talk become a common rite of passage? As Jonathan Lethem puts it, “At what age does a black boy learn he’s scary?”

The truth is that peace without justice is not peace. Sometimes, children don’t talk out of line in class not because they are learning their manners, but instead because they fear what the teacher will do to them if they do. Ruling with fear is not the same as ruling with justice. Until corrupt officers realize this, black children will continue to get “the talk” every day. Works Cited Fitzsimmons, Emma G. “12-Year-Old Boy Dies After Police in Cleveland Shoot Him.”

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