When It Comes To Toy Guns, Little Black Boys Don't Have The Luxury of Play

There's a stark difference between raising white American children and black American children.
09/24/2016 12:33 pm ET Updated Apr 30, 2017
Stefano Oppo via Getty Images

Eleven years ago, I became a “boy mom.” I eagerly readied the nursery in powder blue with all things “boy.” We waited patiently for his arrival and when he made his debut five weeks before schedule, we adjusted our lives to suit his needs.

My then-husband and I never really discussed our son playing with guns. It just simply didn’t cross our minds. My husband owned a 9mm, which wasn’t abnormal on a military base in the south. In fact, in the south, it’s pretty normal for children to own guns, and no one bats an eyelash.

I grew up in the “north,” and my mother was vehemently opposed to us playing with any gun other than a squirt gun. Turns out, when my son received his first toy gun for his third birthday, I was more like my mother than not.

The toy gun was some sort of automatic rifle, complete with a black revolver and holster. My son never played with it, not for lack of trying on his part. When the gift was unwrapped, I put it aside and eventually re-gifted it for one of my neighbor’s children’s birthdays.

Some people may think me rude for re-gifting a present for my child, but there’s a sad truth that some people do not understand.

Little black boys with toy guns can be mistaken for a threat, and starting from the tender age of three, my son needed to learn that.

Yesterday I read an article in the Washington Post entitled “My sons like playing guns: An American confession.” In this article, the author writes about her internal conflict over whether to allow her children to play with guns.

The article hit me hard, showing the stark difference between raising white American children, and black American children.

After some consulting with her culturally diverse neighbors in Shanghai, she ultimately decides to let her boys enjoy their toy guns, trusting that they will understand the difference between pretend violence and the real thing.

In the closing of the article, she states, “Someday I will teach them that guns can protect and destroy, depending on who is holding them ... Someday, the violent words they use will hold more weight. For now, though, I will let them play.”

“Letting them play” sounds so innocuous, so sweet. But when it comes to my boys, I can’t just “let them play.” Tamir Rice was just playing, and he didn’t come home. John Crawford III was just playing, and he didn’t make it out of the store.

You see, little black boys and black men do not get the option of “just playing” with toy guns. The truth is, the American “obsession with guns” is only safe if you belong to a certain section of the American population.

My boys love guns. Their dad has several, and they have learned about gun safety and know not to touch real guns. However, they do not play with realistic guns. They play with neon squirt guns and brightly colored Nerf guns that shoot blindingly bright Nerf bullets.

They are not allowed to aim or shoot their guns at people (which makes it pretty boring for boys, because…boys), because guns are dangerous and human life is precious. Also, because aiming a gun at a person is viewed as a threat and can be potentially harmful, or deadly in the case of young black children.

So, while guns can be a staple of a young boy’s childhood, I will never fully get to enjoy the decision to just “let them play,” when it comes to toy guns.

They don’t have that luxury.

Karlie is the person behind the blog Stop Yelling at Me...please! She enjoys writing about life, current events and of course, parenting. Karlie is a mother of three and the wife of one supportive husband that is not being held against his will, really. She is also a contributing writer on the Today Parenting Team. You can check out more of her work at stopyellingatmeplease.com

CONVERSATIONS