Gratitude Is Broken

I am running around the yard the day after Christmas. I am running around the yard playing Peter Pan with two precious boys that I would die for, if need be. I am running around the yard, and they are wielding toy weapons that a grandparent sent.

This is not my choice. I would rather be inside playing a board game. I would rather they were playing with something besides weapons. I would rather I could breathe easier, instead of gasping after air–the result of my slow recovery from pneumonia a few weeks ago.

I do not think children should have toy guns (to be clear, their weapons are nerf bows and arrows–even so, I am wary of what this is teaching them about how to engage conflict through play). When I was 5, my grandfather and father went in together and bought me a rifle.

I am running around the yard on the day after Christmas and the children that I love are running recklessly, wielding toy weapons. And not for a single moment do I pause in fear that one of them will be gunned down by a grown man with a badge, so socially conditioned to fear and suspect them for the color of their skin that he will shoot them before he has time to say “hello.”

I have the luxury (should I so indulge) of being grateful that these boys will never have to face this kind of danger. Their relative safety comes at the expense of grown men with weapons channeling aggression and prejudice towards their brothers and sisters with darker skin. This is not okay.

It’s not just that this is not okay. This is royally fucked up.

I do not think that children should have toy guns. I do not think that our society should be flooded with guns. I do not think it takes a semi-automatic weapon to hunt a deer or even a bear. I do not think a basement arsenal of heavy weapons could ever protect you from government forces that wield drones and missiles and atomic bombs. That’s a stupid excuse for deep-seated insecurity.

I do not think that grown-ass men with uniforms who are supposed to “protect and serve” should be pulling guns as their first action. I do not think that our nations political system, justice system, law enforcement, economy, or penal system has been designed or implemented to protect or serve anyone outside the white, owning class.

In our country we see white adults walk through stores with fingers on the triggers of actual loaded weapons and law enforcement “protects their rights” to do so. We see hundreds of white teenagers rioting in a shopping mall and dozens of police respond with no arrests and only minor injuries reported. Meanwhile, we see individual black men, women, and children gunned down for standing still or walking away from police officers, for holding toy weapons (sometimes in toy aisles filled with toy weapons), and being brutally beaten to death or dying while in police custody. We see justice systems charged with investigating these deaths and public servants blatantly saying that they will not question the actions of the police.

Our system is (we are) fucked up. There is no pretty way to say it.

It is the day after Christmas and I am running around the yard, playing with two beautiful little boys, wielding toy weapons, and I will never have to think twice about their safety, because the color of their skin is white and the police were made for protecting and serving them.

And two days later, Tamir Rice’s murderers are left to walk free, not because we don’t know exactly what happened. But because he is black, and they are wearing police badges, and he is not who they believe they are supposed to be serving and protecting, and the prosecutors and grand jury cannot bear to look at how fucking broken and racist we are.

Word of this vile decision comes on the day that the church marks the feast of the Holy Innocents. This is the day we remember the children killed because those in political power were afraid that just one of those children might one day try to reach out and take part in some of that political power. The parallels would be striking if they weren’t so nauseating.

I cannot be grateful for something that I have that is of value only because its worth has been paid for in the blood of innocents.

It is Christmas, and I am tired of toy guns, and real guns,and light sabers, and drones, and suicide bombs, and politicians scaremongering for votes, and people clinging to weapons that kill tens of thousands each year for the sake of protecting against overblown threats that kill less than a hundred annually.

It is the day after Christmas, and the children I love are running around in the yard without fearing for their lives. And this is not something anyone should ever have to be grateful for. And tens of millions of children in our country do not have this basic freedom.


Photo taken at The King Center, Atlanta, GA.

There is no more innocence. I do not know how to be grateful if we don’t have the humanity to do the basic repair needed to lay down our weapons and our fear, and fix our individual and collective self-identity that has been centered around self-protection through annihilation of others.

And I get the feelings of rage. I want to blow up the system. I want to rip the guns out of ignorant racists’ hands. I want to seize the wealth of every last corporate fleabag who fancies himself a philanthropist for tax-sheltering his fortunes in a charitable foundation when every dime he made was through exploitation, slavery, pollution, extortion, and purchasing our legislatures.

I want to play my own grown up fantasy game, wielding a toy sword, and running around the internet liking protest videos, and signing petitions. I want to fight an epic battle and win, defeating evil and setting the world to rights.

And whoever lives by the sword must, in the end, die by the sword.

I do not think that I should have toy guns. Or real guns. Or missiles. Or drones. Or nuclear bombs. Or police who serve and protect me from my darker skinned neighbors who might want economic, political, and social justice, or simply to exist in their own yard, or in a store, or in a park (maybe even playing and holding a toy gun).

I am not grateful for these instruments of violence–these tools meant to protect me from the difficult work of figuring out how to resolve my own conflicts, share resources, and get along with others.

It is the day after Christmas and I am running around the yard, searching for enough imagination to find a different way to play together, that doesn’t involve harming one another. And instead of gratitude for this skill, I am heartbroken, because we have grown so practiced in making war that we have slaughtered imagination and love, and forgotten how to make justice and peace.