Societal The Word 8 minute read

Sandbox Rites (Rights)

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Three years ago, Jane and Brad bought their first home, a townhouse, with three stories and Jane’s dream gourmet kitchen, in a small suburb 20 minutes from Brad’s job.  Every afternoon for over two years, Jane would walk the quarter-mile to Hamilton Park, so she and Brad’s young son, Jared, could burn off some of his toddler-energy.  Jared particularly loved to play in the sandbox, which was equipped with buckets, shovels and a few toys.  For hours, day-after-day, Jared would push a toy dump-truck around the edge of the sandbox; fill and dump sand from the back of it; while Jane called friends, read, and caught up on emails.

One day, after sliding down the spiral slide a few times, Jared tottered over to the sandbox to play.  A boy, about the same age as Jared, was already in the sandbox, pushing the dump truck around the edge of the sandbox, just as Jared liked to do, causing Jared to immediately scream so loudly that Jane instantly thought that he had been hurt.  She leapt from the bench where she was sitting and ran over to help her son.

“My truck, my truck, MY TRUCK,” Jared wailed, pointing his finger in the direction of the new kid.  Jane bent down, wrapped her arms around Jared, and cooed, “it’s okay Honey.  You have to share.”

Jared only got louder.  Tears rolled down his face and his screams pierced through the normal tranquility of the park.  A woman with a cloud of hair seemingly floating around her thin face, who Jane assumed was the other boy’s mother, looked up, met Jane’s gaze, smiled empathetically, and went back to reading her book as she sat on a nearby bench.

Frustrated, Jane picked up Jared, who by this time was in full melt-down-mode, and walked over to the sandbox.

“Hi,” she said to the little boy. “This is Jared.  Can he have a turn now playing with the dump truck?”

The little boy, looked up briefly from filling the back of the truck with sand, and explained, clearly excited by and focused on his project, “Not now.  I’m building a SUPER-big mountain.”

Upon hearing this, Jared arched his back so severely that he fell out of Jane’s grip onto the ground where he started grabbing wood chips and throwing them in anger.

Jane’s shoulders tightened.  She felt embarrassed that her son was causing a scene, but also felt annoyed at the boy for saying “no” when he could see that Jared was very upset; and that the boy’s mothers seemed oblivious to what was happening.  Jane quickly walked over to the bench where the other mom was still reading.

“Hi, I’m Jane and that little boy over there having a meltdown is my son, Jared.  We live right up the street and have been coming to this park for years.  Jared has a particular love for that dump truck.  I was wondering if you could tell your son to give Jared a turn with it now,” Jane jabbered.

The woman looked up from her book; and grinned broadly, “Hi there!  I’m Tonya, so nice to meet you, Jane.  My little guy’s name is Tarik.  It looks as if our boys are around the same age.  It can be a tough age sometimes, huh?” she chuckled with the warmth of shared understanding.  “Tarik hasn’t been playing with the truck for long, but I’ll definitely have him give Jared a turn in a few minutes.  It looks like he’s almost done building his super mountain”, Tonya responded light-heartedly.

By this time, Jared’s face was bright red and covered with tears, snot and tiny flecks of dirt.  Bark chips were interspersed throughout his blond curls, and he continued to scream about “his” truck.  Jane smiled quickly at Tonya, turned away, quickly scooped up Jared, and carried him screaming and flailing, back home.

By the time they reached home, and finally got Jared to calm down by putting on an episode of Thomas the Train, she felt as embittered as Jared had.  “Why couldn’t that child and his mother be reasonable?  She and Jared had been coming to Hamilton park for years; and Jared always played with that dump truck.  Did they even live in the neighborhood?  Jane certainly hadn’t seen them at the park before or in any of the local stores.  Although Tonya seemed a bit uppity, if they do live here, I bet it’s in the rent-controlled apartments at the beginning of Birch street and not in one of the townhomes like she and Brad lived in.  Hell, it was their taxes that paid for that park and everything in it!” she fumed.  She was definitely going to investigate if there were some rules about who is and isn’t able to use the park; what was considered trespassing; and mention to Tara, her neighbor and friend, the idea of neighborhood ID’s and posted playground rules.

Unconsciously, Jane had started to view Hamilton park as her park; or at least felt that she had more rights to it because she had been coming there longer.  Time and experience caused her to have the expectation that she and Jared could come to the park every day and Jared could play how he wanted, with whatever toy he wanted, when he wanted, and with no problems.

All people unconsciously have expectations of our world, how it and the people in it will function.   We expect to get mail on Saturdays, that the grocery store will have a variety of foods and provide us with bags, that we can access the internet from anywhere, and that when we flick on a light-switch the lights will come on.  When those expectations aren’t met, we become agitated — or even angry.

Personal characteristics such as gender, race, class and religion further define our expectations.  For example, since I am a woman, born in the South during the 70’s, I’ve always expected a man to ask me out on a date and to pay for it; to open the car door, and to defend me (and himself) if need be (wrongly or rightly).  I never voiced these expectations, or was aware that I had them, but if I reflect now I am sure that I would not have had a relationship with a man that did not meet those unspoken expectations.

Similarly, most White men, regardless of educational level, wealth, or age expect to be in a position of power, and to be treated and regarded in a certain way as it relates to other Americans.  They may not have consciously thought about it; but they unconsciously operate from a place of expectation and entitlement.  While oftentimes infuriating, it shouldn’t be shocking.  It’s a product of their experience and history.  They colonized and took these lands despite the fact that the Native Americans were here first.  They next profited greatly due to the displacement of Native Americans and the enslavement of Black Africans.  Since the very beginning of this country, White men have run all of its institutions, made all of the rules, and led all of its companies.  They played in the sandbox first, alone, and essentially unchallenged for centuries.  Consequently, in their minds, it is their sandbox and their truck (indeed, it is their park too); and accordingly become incensed when someone dares to invade or intrude.

They think: This is my park; you shouldn’t be barbequing.  I don’t dislike you but why are you in my neighborhood, my pool, my restaurant, my store, my company, etc.  It is mine!  So they call police officers, security guards, HR Managers, etc. to restore order, to fix things and to make things for them the way they have unconsciously expected them to be since birth.

Each incident: each unwarranted call to the police, blackballing, fining, random racial name calling, or ostracism and undermining at work is an attempt to put Black people “back” in their place and get things to their proper order – back to a place where they are in power.

That a Black man ran and became President of the United States; that a Black woman is undoubtedly the best tennis player to ever compete in a typically “White” sport, that Black men dare take a knee and ask for equal rights (particularly when White folks were “nice” enough to “allow” them to play in part of the sandbox, with one of the toys), that Black senators challenge White senators, that Black people are marching and demanding changes to the sandbox has many White people rolling around snotty-nosed in wood chips having temper tantrums.

That’s my truck!  My truck!  MY TRUCK!

 

 

My intention is for Black people to love themselves and each other. It sounds somewhat silly, I guess; but oftentimes my people are overwhelmed with negative images, bad news, and stereotyped characters about us. I’d like to flip that script. I’d like to remind us, as often as I can, how incredible we are. Read more

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