No Black children allowed!

 

Schools are segregated. So groups of kids who gather together after school are often homogenous. In the sliver of Washington, DC where I live, this means groups of high schoolers and middle schoolers are Black, while the kids on toddler playgrounds are white.

Corner stores have dealt with this gentrification in the typical ways: They have begun to stock kombucha, organic almond milk, and craft beer. They have taken the bullet-proof partitions down. And they have banned anyone under the age of 18 from coming into their stores after 3PM without their parents.

3PM means after school. And kids who are not with their parents are those who are old enough to be out on their own. Combine this with the racial dynamics of the neighborhood and you’ve got a community full of Black kids who are not welcome in neighborhood stores.

This is not the case in all neighborhoods. It is the case in mine.

Last night we sent my 10-year-old daughter and her friend to the corner store to pick up some cooking oil so we could get dinner ready. She carried a reusable shopping bag and a $20 bill, and walked three blocks to the store where we have shopped since she was a baby. When they got there, the shop owner turned them away, citing the 3PM policy.

We paused when they came home empty-handed. My daughter is biracial and her friend is Black, and this is one of the many times when a parent has to wonder how much that matters. So we called a white friend and asked her to send her son to the same store. He went in by himself, and came out with gummy bears.

My partner and I separately had long conversations with the store owners after this. It felt like a bunch of busy words filled up the air while we spoke. This couldn’t possibly have happened, they said. Or the kids must have gotten mixed up and gone to a different store by mistake. Or they must have done something wrong while they were in the store.

These are small businesspeople. I know they work long hours and they have been friendly to us in the past. They probably have families of their own to protect. But they turned away 10-year-old kids trying to buy cooking oil. I have no idea what is in their hearts and minds, nor do I care. What I have is evidence that the 3PM policy has turned into a cognitive finger-snap for them. They see Black kids in the store [snap!], they send them away. They see a white kid, they allow him to spend his money.

To help register the impact that we and our neighbors hope to make by not shopping at this store anymore, the kids have made stamped postcards with the market’s address on them. They say, “Because you turn Black kids away, we have chosen to spend our money at a different store today. We spent $______.” Let’s hope their mailbox fills up, and their cash register empties out.

 

(Image Credit: Patrick Smith / Getty Images / Washington Post)

Australia vows to turn Black children into specters

 


Australia’s Immigration Minister has vowed to ship off asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, to Malaysia. This was meant to be Australia’s “solution” to a “crisis” of asylum seekers. Simple detention simply wasn’t enough. The State announced its intention late this week, and now seems somewhat surprised at the outcry. The government never thought that the fate of children of color, call them Black children, could matter quite so much.

This aspirational project of turning children of color, Black children, into distant and dimly remembered specters comes at a poignantly timely moment.

Today, June 5, 2011, is the last day of “Glenn Ligon: America”, a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Ligon is famous for works that turn words into paintings, stencils that conjure histories of slavery, of racism, of homophobia, of violence. Some of these pieces have been described as “stenciled sentences pulled from different sources.” The sentences aren’t pulled nor are they transcribed.

They are, instead, translations, as they are invocations.

Consider, for example, “Untitled (I’m Turning Into a Specter before Your Very Eyes and I’m Going to Haunt You)”. This has been described as having been pulled from a play by Jean Genet, The Blacks: A Clown Show.

But the line in Genet’s play is actually, “You’re becoming a specter before their very eyes and you’re going to haunt them.”

And it has a particular New York history.

On May 4th, 1961, almost fifty years ago to the day, Jean Genet’s The Blacks: A Clown Show opened in New York, at the St. Marks Playhouse, and it was immediately hailed as a transformative event. When it opened, the play, a meditation on Blackness, Black rage and Black liberation, was described as “brilliantly sardonic”, “a lyrical tone poem”, a play of “furies

The original cast included Roscoe Lee Browne, James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett, Jr., Ethel Ayler, Cicely Tyson, Godfrey Cambridge, Maya Angelou, and Charles Gordone. The Blacks was the longest running Off-Broadway non-musical of the entire 1960s.

In an epigraph to the play, Genet claimed “One evening an actor asked me to write a play for an all-black cast. But what exactly is a black? First of all, what’s his color?”

Fifty years later, we watch the Australian government plan to ship unaccompanied Black children to Malaysia, and we ask, “But what exactly is a Black child? First of all, how old is she?”

The children Australia plans to send to Malaysia are children seeking asylum. Not failed asylum seekers, but rather children in the process of seeking asylum. Australia’s Minister of Immigration believes that turning children into specters will deter “people smugglers”.

Today it was announced that the “deal” is being altered. Girl refugees might not be sent to Malaysia. The girls “spared” from deportation will still be unaccompanied and still be behind bars. They will not thank the State for this “gift”, no more than the boys will. These children designated as specters-to-come will haunt the State for decades. Fifty years ago, the specters will haunt them. Today, the specters will haunt you. Fifty years from now … the specters will haunt … us.

 

(Art Credit: Glenn Ligon / Philadelphia Museum of Art / Washington Post)