Let Black kids be kids
What happens on the playground can change lives
I wrote this originally as a Facebook post in a closed local progressive women’s group. I live in a “diverse” & “liberal” community, where people love talking about how happy and proud they are to live in an integrated and diverse community. This is what happened on the playground yesterday. (This story has been edited from the original Facebook post to provide more details and fill in some gaps).
I was just at park with my two young children. Our local park recently underwent a complete renovation, and many families had come out to enjoy the playground once again. As I was walking to the playground with my children, I saw two white people, a man and a woman yelling at two (or three) young black children who were playing with their bikes on the playground. The kids were rolling their bikes over the hilly parts of the playground, and the white man and woman did not like it, asked them to stop, and yelled at the kids.
The man was dressed like a fake hipster, with his flannel shirt, his long gray wool/cotton/work fabric short-pants, that came down past his knees, and he had Vibram five finger shoes on his feet. He had a newsboy cap on his head. He looked like he was ready to chop some wood. He must have felt really proud about putting that fake hipster uniform together.
The woman was wearing purple polka-dot pants, and she had her bike leaned up against a tree, with a kids bike seat attached to the back.
I don’t think the two were together or part of the same family. They just decided perhaps to act in unison that day and call the police on the injustice they saw happening on the playground.
As I opened the gate to the playground, I saw a kid atop a hill on his bike, and the white man yelling at him. The kid rolled off the hill, got his friends, called out the racism that he had experienced, and he and a little girl left the playground together.
I stood there witnessing the whole spectacle. I saw the white man proudly put his hands on his fake hipster hips, yell at the kids, and look around at the other parents to see if they acknowledged his brave feat. I saw the woman on her phone. I did not know at that time that the woman had called the police on these children. I said nothing, and looked on as the children left.
A cop came to the playground two minutes later. He looked around to see who called him. He walked close to where I was standing, so I heard everything that the woman said to the cop.
The white woman walked over to the cop, and said, “Hi, I called you. There were three kids that were riding their bikes and they were hitting people with their bikes and they weren’t listening to us when we told them to stop.”
The cop said “What did they look like? How old were they?”
“The were about his size”, the white woman said, as she pointed at another black kid playing on the swings (this kid was visibly older).
The cop asked if the kids were still there.
“No, they left”, the woman said. “I didn’t call on the emergency line, because it’s obviously not an emergency, but they weren’t listening”.
The cop then said okay and walked off.
What. The. Fuck. You called the cops on kids?
My mouth then opened, almost involuntarily, and that micrometer sized filter that sits between my mind and my mouth diffused into the ether, and I muttered out loud, “You gotta be fucken kidding me.”
The white woman uttered, “Excuse me, what did you say?”
“You called the cops on a group of kids that were just riding their bikes here. Why?”
“Excuse me but you weren’t here. I was here, and we told them to stop and they weren’t listening”, the white woman with her purple polka dot pants said huffily.
“They weren’t listening? So you called the cops? That is racist, what you just did.”
“It’s racist? Why is it always about race with you people?”
Woha….. “you people?”, I thought — did she just delineate herself from me?
She continued her verbal vomit, “We’re trying to keep our kids safe. I moved here because it is an integrated community. They weren’t listening to us. We asked them to stop. The were running into people on the playground. I’m not racist.”
YES. YOU. ARE.
LISTEN TO THIS: YOU NEVER CALL THE COPS ON KIDS WHO ARE JUST PLAYING ON THE PLAYGROUND. NEVER.
If you’re a white woman with purple polka dot pants, or a white man with fake hipster pants reading this right now — read this.
What you did was racist. It was ignorant, and you need to read up on why the #BlackLivesMatter movement exists.
IT IS ALWAYS ABOUT RACE. Our black and brown skin singles us out because you don’t value it, you see it as a threat, and you always put our kids in harm’s way.
And fuck your reasoning of “I moved to an integrated community”, (therefore I’m not racist) — you tell yourself that to feel better about your willingness to move to a diverse neighborhood. You tell yourself that you’re not racist because of it, but your actions say otherwise.
I told the woman, “You don’t call the cops on kids playing on the playground. Tamir Rice. Look him up. YOU DON’T CALL THE COPS.”
The white woman rolled her eyes, and put up her hand. My kids were trying to get my attention so I walked away, fuming, angry, livid.
I walked up to the young black kid still playing on the playground who the woman had pointed to and asked what he saw. I told him, “There’s some ignorant ass people around here. Please know that they didn’t do anything wrong, and please stay safe.”
The two kids then came back to the playground, and I saw the white man and woman stare at them and follow their movements with their eyes.
I went up to the kids, because I needed the other parents to see that someone on that playground cared about them. And as I walked up to the young boy he visibly flinched, nervous at what I was going to say or do.
I put my hands up to show him that I didn’t want any trouble, and inside me my heart broke because I knew he had already learned that you can’t trust people.
I asked him, “Hey, are you okay? I saw what happened earlier. I told her what she did was wrong. Please know that you did NOTHING wrong. Please take care of yourself. There are ignorant people here, who will likely do this again.”
He said, “I know.
“She said to us “I’m glad ya’ll came back.”, when we walked back into the playground”, the young boy said.
My heart broke some more. I thought “She doesn’t own the fucken playground.”
“Did you call your mom or dad and let them know what happened?”, I asked, wanting to make sure that someone close to him knew about what happened.
“Yes. I called my mom, and she said to let her know if this happened again.”
He gave me a hug and said “Thank you for looking out for me.”
My heart broke again. This time, I felt the dust. Not the pieces, but the dust.
I’ve experienced injustice in my life. I’ve experienced racism and I’m a survivor of domestic violence at the hands of my parents.
I’ve also served in the military. I’ve served and protected the freedom of a country that didn’t always protect my freedom, or the freedom of black and brown people.
It breaks my heart to know that black and brown kids can’t be kids. They can’t just play — doing the same things that a white kid would do but would never be called out for.
Our kids are judged older than their age, they are criminalized for their actions at a young age, so much so that we just passed a bill in Illinois prohibit the expulsion of students from preschool programs that receive funding from the Illinois State Board of Education.
In between the time of my interaction with white polka-dot purple pant lady, and the kids, I called my husband and told him what happened in Hindi, and made sure I was speaking as loudly as possible in Hindi while walking around the playground. I got looks from the other parents, and damn if I didn’t care.
I went home, posted on Facebook in that local progressive group, and the response to that post was overwhelming. The story needed to be told. Our stories need to be told. As my incredibly wise twin sister once told me, “This is your work, Arti. To tell our stories, to tell your story, to educate and inform.”
This is our work. To take up the spaces that were previously denied to us. To no longer try and assimilate, but to exist in our purest, most whole forms, and present the fullest expression of ourselves to this world.
My public service announcement to all parents and caregivers: Please, if you see this happening on any playground, and especially if you’re white — call out your fellow white people. Stop them from calling the police. Let kids be kids.
The dust of my heart swirls in the wind.
I think, “When will people value brown and black bodies? When?”
1. Black Lives Matter Website: http://blacklivesmatter.com/
2. Early Childhood Program Expulsion Law: http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2017/05/11/new-bill-would-curb-pre-k-expulsions-public-schools
Bill Status — Illinois General Assemblywww.ilga.gov
3. Black kids are viewed older and “less innocent” than white kids:
Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are…www.apa.org