New Voices

Dear White Parent: What You Need to Tell Your Son About Tamir Rice

written by Ellis Maxwell

Tell him. You have to tell him.

Your instinct is to protect him, just like every parent wants to protect their child, but to protect is, in this case, to promote ignorance. Don’t protect him from injustice; alert him to it. If you are worried that he is too young to hear this story, remember that he, like you, has the privilege of ignorance. If you are worried about introducing race to a 12-year-old white boy, remember that you are privileged to be able to choose when and how to introduce your child to race. Remember that the black children he goes to school with have been dealing with racism since day one. If today, he has never heard Tamir Rice’s story, that is a minor failure. If he still doesn’t know Tamir’s name tomorrow, that is a major failure.

So, you’re going to tell him. What are you going to say? There is one thing you absolutely cannot tell him. You cannot say, “It could have been you,” because that is a lie. It could not have been your son. Your son is safe from Tamir’s fate because he is white. Because he is white, he is allowed to be a child, which Tamir was not. This is the central point you must get across to your son: There is a reason that Tamir Rice was killed and you will not be. You must be clear about this. Don’t go all abstract and say, “Sometimes people treat other people unfairly because they don’t look the same.” Don’t do it. Be more specific. Now is a good time to talk about the toy police car you got him for his sixth birthday. Tell your son that police officers serve and protect him, but they didn’t serve or protect Tamir. They killed him.

Here is a good place to start. You are a 12-year-old boy, and Tamir was a 12-year-old boy, and you are not dead, but Tamir is. Tell him that this is a great tragedy, because it is. Weep with him. Encourage him to weep with you. Tell him how much Tamir’s life mattered. Tell him that it mattered every bit as much as his does, but a police officer didn’t think so, and he killed him. Weep with him more. Tell him that you are weeping for Tamir, who loved basketball the same way he does.

Tell your son that Tamir’s story is not and will never be his own story. Your son will not be killed by a police officer. Challenge yourself and your son to weep nonetheless. Identify with the humanity of Tamir’s story without claiming it as your own. This is empathy. Tell your son that he will never know how it feels to be Tamir Rice. Tell yourself that you will never know how it feels to be Tamir’s mother. Still, weep. Weep because your son is safe and Tamir was not.

Your son just got an airsoft gun. He is happy about this. You are scared, but you are scared that he will accidentally hurt someone or himself; you are not scared that his toy gun will provoke a police officer to kill him. Make sure he knows the difference between the way you fear for him and the way Tamir Rice’s mother feared for her son.

Your son just got an airsoft gun, and he plays with it outside. Tamir Rice had an airsoft gun, too, and he played with it outside. He was killed by a police officer who forgot that Tamir was a child, and that police officer wasn’t punished because we all forgot that Tamir was a child, and now you are here with your son, and you need to tell him that Tamir was a child. Tamir Rice was a child like your son is a child, and now he’s dead, and your son is not dead. Tell him all of this, and weep. Always remember to weep.

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