To us, this smells like sadism: There is no perfect set of rules explaining how best to raise a child.
What should you tell a child about the dangers the world presents? When should he or she be told about those dangers?
How much should a child be told? In how much detail?
There is no perfect set of rules to answer such questions for parents. That said, we thought Slate’s recent account of child-reading in liberal brainiac Cambridge was extremely sad and carried an obvious smell.
To us, there was a scent of sadism in the air as we read the first-person piece. But more than anything else, this pitiful memoir helps us see a very basic fact:
No one on earth is quite as dumb as Cambridge intellectuals can be! Though only in certain types of cases, of course.
No one can prove that E. J. Graff was wrong in what she decided to do with, or to, her 10-year-old son, who is black. (Graff and her partner are white.) But in her piece, you will read about the way she chose to treat her son in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict.
After the Zimmerman verdict, Graff made her “visibly miserable” child watch the recent film about Jackie Robinson's heroic but horrific experiences as he integrated major league baseball in 1947. If you read her piece, consider one thing she chose to tell her son about Robinson’s experiences, after she made him watch the film all the way through.
“Our son told us that he didn’t like the movie,” Graff writes, “and asked if we could turn it off.” The answer was no—and as he asked a child's sensible question, he even had to hear this:
GRAFF (7/26/13): Afterward, our sweet-headed boy—a child who's terrified of spiders and loves fart jokes—was especially upset by the fact that Robinson had gotten hate mail from strangers, that his life was threatened for playing baseball with white men. He kept asking us: Who wrote those letters? Did the police catch them and put them in jail? Why not? We’ve worked hard to undo his outsize fear of “bad guys” and burglars, to teach him that most people are good, to understand that the police and the law are there to protect us. So it was painful to say: Some of those letters were probably written by cops.Was it really painful to say that? Or did it perhaps hurt so good?
Good grief! What made Graff think she had to provide that detail, at which she was only guessing, to her “visibly miserable” child, who so upset by the film's displays of 40s-era racism that he didn’t want to sleep alone that night?
No one is clueless like these folk are clueless—these Cambridge “intellectuals.” Forget the hint of sadism or something like it, although that river runs all through that piece. Just consider how dumb a person has to be to make a statement like this:
GRAFF: When he wanted to know why the jury let Zimmerman off, we didn’t have the words to explain reasonable doubt to a 10-year-old. He wouldn’t understand phrases like poor prosecution, indifferent investigation, or “stand your ground.” We couldn’t articulate the probability that by refusing to consider race, the mostly white jury was probably influenced by parts of their brains they don’t know are there, or to explain that hidden biases could have influenced both Zimmerman and the jury to perceive a young black man in a hoodie as a potential menace, whereas a young white man, similarly reedy and with a hood up to keep out the rain, might get the benefit of the doubt. How do you explain that sometimes these attitudes grow not out of overt hatred but because of the more subtle biases, nearly undetectable except by social scientists and neurologists, lodged in American neurons so deeply that most of us don’t even know that they're there?What a horrible, horrible person! Putting the moral dimension aside, can humans be any dumber?
Graff didn’t know how to explain “why the jury let Zimmerman off?” What a self-serving pile of crap! Why not give her son the obvious answer? Why not tell her 10-year-old son what one actual juror, B37, actually said?
Why not tell him this?
The jury believed that Zimmerman was getting beaten up by Trayvon Martin at the time of the shooting. They believed that (1) because that’s what the one real eyewitness said, and (2) because Zimmerman had injuries.
In every state, you get to defend yourself, even with deadly force, if someone is beating you up and you think you’re at risk of serious injury or death. And the jurors thought that Zimmerman was getting beaten up that badly.
Or at least, they weren’t sure! Ten-year-olds certainly can understand the concept of proof and the burden of proof, unless they are unlucky enough to have parents-from-Hades like this.
Why wouldn’t Graff give the obvious answer to her son’s obvious question? You get two choices here. She either believes the Official Standard Story, in which Trayvon Martin was essentially shot by a racist sniper who had waited for him in a tree. Or she’s so committed to various dogmas that she refused to tell her son the truth, that there is a pretty good chance Zimmerman was getting beaten up at the time of the shooting, in a potentially dangerous way.
Why wouldn’t a decent person explain that to a miserable child? Partly because we Dubliners have all agreed, from Obama on down, that these things cannot be said.
Chris Hayes accidentally said it once; Zimmerman got beat up. (For partial transcript, see below.) Other than that, Dubliners have widely agreed to disappear all such suggestions.
Even with a terrified child, Graff won't break faith with the Standard Dogma. She will let a 10-year-old suffer in terror before she will tell him the truth.
To our nostrils, Graff smells very unpleasant. This is the horrible way she concluded her horrible tale:
GRAFF: He didn’t want to sleep alone that night, so we let him camp out on our bedroom floor. As he got ready for bed, my little guy started a chant of “USA! USA! Except 20 states!” No, I corrected him. “All the states are OK now. They fixed their laws. Black and white can be married anywhere in the country.” I knew I was telling a little (if you’ll excuse the phrase) white lie: Voter ID laws and the disenfranchisement of felons disproportionately affect black people; mini-DOMA laws ban recognition of his moms’ marriage in half the American states. But there are limits to what you can load onto a 10-year-old in a single day.Translations: Earlier, when Graff told her son about those old racial marriage laws, she had somehow forgotten to tell him that they no longer exist! In her last sentence, we find her dreaming of all the discomfort she can impose in the future.
This is an astonishing tale. It shows what can happen all over Dublin when we start telling embellished tales because they make us feel morally, racially pure.
That child will be free from that person one day. That’s the best thing we can tell you.
What not quote Chris Hayes: On July 1, Chris Hayes described how he felt watching tape of Zimmerman the day after the shooting: “The thing that struck me was, man, that dude looks like he’s pretty messed up. Like, he kind of got beat up...When you see his nose in this, it’s like, ‘OK, he took something in the face.’”
Why wouldn't Graff tell her son some basic facts about what seems to have happened that night? Dubliners will die for their tales, or at least they'll inflict major pain on others.