childhood

To Tamir

I'm sorry you're dead, Tamir. I'm sorry that playing with a pellet gun got you shot by a policeman. I used to play with pellet guns, too. My friend had them. We'd take them out into the yard at his house. There was one that looked fake, and one that looked like a real pistol. We shot at birds on power lines, but never hit one. I think I'd have been sad if I did. We shot at trees and signs, solid things that made the round silver pellets ping and pew. We didn't think about what it looked like, one skinny kid and one chubby kid toting gun-like guns near some houses, pointing them and shooting them. We weren't afraid.

I'm sorry you should have been afraid. Little boys have played with toy guns as long as I can remember. That's what you were, you know: a little boy. Twelve feels grown-up to a twelve-year-old, but I can say you're a little boy because I'm an adult. I was a little boy once, so I remember. Before you died, you weren't afraid to play in a park, wander about looking at whatever little boys look at on the ground, point your pellet gun at imaginary targets, sit at a picnic table and pass the time.

I wish you had been afraid, even though that's not right. It's wrong to wish one group of people have more fear and take extra care just for their safety, even if it's just because you want them safe. It's more that I wish you'd lived in a world where little black boys didn't have to be afraid of that kind of thing. I wish that I knew what it was like to be you. I was a little white boy in rural Alabama, so it was different. You'd have realized that if you'd grown up. Maybe you knew it already.

I watched the video. I saw you gather up the slushy snow, pad it together and send it into the air. You watched it sink to the earth and splat lazily on the sidewalk. I watched you step on the flattened pile, and I imagined the muffled crunch of ice and powder beneath your boots. I did that kind of thing, too, at your age. Then I watched a car roll up and a man jump out and gun you down, like in a gangster movie. But this was a police car rolling up, and a police man jumping out, and it was very real. You died, and I grieve about that. Lots of people do.

I wish you had more afternoons to point your pellet gun at trees and signs and power lines, more days to sit and be bored at a table, more days to look at worms in a sidewalk puddle. But you're dead, and now I wish for justice for you. I wish that all would see you as a boy, a child of God, an unjust death in an unjust world. And I wish they'd do something about it. But mostly, I wish you were still alive, Tamir. I wish wishing were enough.

The Right One

One time, I was served multigrain pancakes instead of regular pancakes. That's what an Ohio couple is saying happened to them, except with a human baby. At the heart of this is a child, a complex organism that will grow up with thoughts and feelings and a given level of identity and self-worth. But only enough for a multigrain baby, because, you know, they ordered a regular one.

A couple of weeks ago, the story of a lesbian couple hit the press after their baby, conceived through in vitro fertilization using sperm from a sperm bank, was born mixed race. They'd asked for white sperm, but a clerical error sent sperm from an African-American donor. I realize I'm late comment on it now, but it's honestly taken me that long to unravel this. And even a bit longer to realize that I didn't need to unravel it at all.

Privilege Vortex

The entire story is, as Logan put it after we both read it, a "privilege vortex." It's almost impossible to dissect and understand. It's a story made of layers and layers of baffling opinions, complicated motives, and unreasonable behavior. Then again, why should it be reasonable? Vortexes aren't known for their rationality. I wish I had a chart for you visual learners, but Logan laid out the privilege vortex thusly:

Lesbians (negative privilege points). Enough money for a designer baby (positive privilege points). Black baby (negative privilege points). Time and resources to bring a case against the bank (positive privilege points). Need to move to a multiracial neighborhood with good schools (lol).

Even after I push through the frustrating details, I still have so much anger that the actual medical miracle that is our ability to use our monkey hands to put new, growing life into a person where there wouldn't have been otherwise is being discounted because it's not the right kind of person. What does that mean? How does that kid accept all this when she inevitably runs a quick Google search on herself like everyone with access to Google? It's gonna be tough, that's for sure. Mommy and Mommy didn't want me because it was difficult and inconvenient. They wanted me, but a different me. A white me.

That's fucking tragic.

From the article:

"Though compelled to repress her individuality amongst family members, Payton's differences are irrepressible, and Jennifer does not want Payton to feel stigmatized or unrecognized due simply to the circumstances of her birth," the lawsuit states. "Jennifer's stress and anxiety intensify when she envisions Payton entering an all-white school."

Fun fact: you're stigmatizing her and unrecognizing her humanness right now. The circumstances of her birth are what caused you to bring a lawsuit to punish the sperm bank for the mistake. She's going to equate that as her very birth being a mistake. Did you realize? Second fun fact: she doesn't have to enter an all-white school if you don't want her to. You're a parent, and you can make those choices. Did you know?

What's the Issue, Again?

Despite its social and moral aspects, the lawsuit will progress as one about paying for a specific service and not getting what you paid many, many dollars for. If that's what they want to be upset about, that they had careful stipulations and were spending their money for specific results and the business failed to render services paid for, that's a fairly standard complaint against a business. People have been refunded or sued for damages in cases with much less serious outcomes than this one. But that's not what's at the heart of this case. It can't be when you've got a person's personhood involved. It stops being a transaction as soon as the "transaction" is a life lived. The heart of this grievance isn't that "we paid for X and our wishes were ignored"; instead, it's "this baby, by not being what we asked for, is a problem for us. The very nature of this child is problematic." There's quite a difference between the two. One is business, the other is existential.

But what are they going to do about her lack of penis? If they're so concerned with the diminished returns on investment, why aren't they complaining about how their baby didn't come with all its parts? They're bringing a suit that has to do with how inconvenient and problematic biological facts have an effect on our social reality. They're pointing out how having a mixed race child won't work with their ethnocentric worldview and their racist family members. Well, what about misogyny? Is the environment they're living in much kinder to women as wholly equal beings than it is to people of color? I'm willing to bet it's not a great situation for either. So where's the lawsuit for not getting a boy? If the issue is getting the most convenient child, where's the WASP boy with hair as golden as summer wheat? It's just another aspect that points to what I said above: this isn't about the transaction. If you wanted a child with the one-hundred-percent best opportunity for success in your white, "traditional" community, you'd be disappointed in a girl. But you're okay with a girl as long as she is the correct color for your current social situation. All of which leads me to believe this has more to do with you than her.

I don't say any of this to belittle anyone's pain or complicated situation. I know family makes everything messy, and I know that everyone wants the best possible life for themselves and for their children. Nobody wants to deal with anything uncomfortable or difficult. Nobody. But here's the reality: if you bring a child into a broken world, you had better get your act together if you don't want her to grow into a reflection of that brokenness. You'd better remember that no matter what your concerns were before, they are now overshadowed by the life in your presence. Be bigger than your ignorance, and let love do it's job.