This morning, The New York Times reported that 25 Chicago children were arrested (ARRESTED) for a middle school food fight. At first, I wanted to scream at my Mac. I couldn’t believe that we have another story worth reporting that just gets brushed under the rug, for some fortunate activist to try and dig up through the dense pages of the Times. Then I found myself reclining in my seat a bit, contemplating on the totality of this message and how it’s really more synecdochic in how it represents the overt and covert messages sent across schools and about our students.
For instance, a few days ago, I was on the train, on my way to another poetry workshop, when I saw a Black boy and his grandmother, knowing the sorts of interactions I’d see. He’d try to open his toy and his grandmother would tell him no. She’d finally give in. She’d give him the toy. He’d drop the toy from playing with it. I’d pass it to him. He’d get slapped. She just keeps shaking her head at him, sending him negative messages, well after he’d already dropped the toy and put it away. He’d want to nap. He reaches out to his grandmother. She continues shaking her head. She’s pinching his cheeks, visibly annoying him even after there was no positive conversation between the admonishing and the positive vibe. He starts napping anyways, tired of the stares and head shakes. She finally gives in to the rest that he wants … 11 stops after he asked her.
Messages like these get sent throughout our young boys and girls about their humanity. They get it from their families, their schools, their environments, and their world. While it’s been well-documented how different children get treated, one really would have to work with children or observe from the lens of one who does to truly see how these little interactions build callous, indifferent, and fatalistic children who don’t believe in fairness and justice since the system has denied this justice to them for so long. It’s disheartening to see even those who do work as teachers, social workers, child advocates, counselors, and babysitters still see Black and Latino children as undeserving of love and care, or even just a little encouragement in the actual form of encouragement. (GASP!)
I look back at that lunch incident, and anywhere we turn on children’s TV, from Spongebob and Bratz to Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide and Zoey 101, we see food fights only punished by a simple slap-of-the-wrist and / or simply part of the comedy. We never see a wagon pull up to the back of the school, and a chain gang of kids just following in one for another. Then again, these shows don’t take place in Chicago, IL. They take place in streets with a name of a tree, an animal, or just the word “Main.”
Thus, it’s important for us to arrest these children who, even having matriculated in good charter schools and trying to do better for themselves, start simple things like food fights. America is preparing them for their futures. Some children’s futures are bright as the sun, shining down on them. Some might call these futures “locked up.” These children’s lives will learn the definition of locked-up a whole lot differently: emotionally and politically.
Mr. V, who honestly wonders what you think about the criminalization of our children …