Tamir (I Wish I Were a Psalm)

At Play



Instructions: Read and annotate the paragraph below. When you are finished, go back and 1) put one line under the subject of each sentence, 2) put two lines under the predicate of each sentence, and 3) bracket the objects.

In the middle of the Twentieth century two million blacks migrated from the south to northern and western cities to get away from Jim Crow. Many were met with racist white violence in their new safer places, call them homes. Chicago comes to mind from my memory of the play by Lorraine Hansberry that I read and saw performed on a no longer extant proscenium stage when I was fifteen. Supported by progressive black and white activists, some schools in those days did moral combat against racism by instituting Intercultural Education. It’s hard to say it wasn’t a good idea. Then we hear the NAACP criticizing songs taught in music classes that use the words “darky” and the most famous and most proprietary word of all, which is not a word for God but the n-word. Words feel most loaded that insinuate and engender a maximum number of oppressors. Then arose the question of what to do with history books in praise of the KKK keeping “foolish Negros” out of government. Then some people wanted to know, ‘Why must my child read about Little Black Sambo at school?’ Even Race Liberals of certain times and places [call it an epoch and approximate the size of it] argued that textbooks can’t influence prejudice even if a classroom is a seedbed for dissemination. Black activists must have been seen as hypersensitive in those days. Back in the day defenders of a status quo must have asked over and over again, ‘Where’s your proof of this?’


Once a toy makes it to the table, the head of the household perched at the head of the table proclaims squirt guns off limits at mealtime. Behold his cowl of soft gray hair. A pale flesh pot of blue irises and gun to bring him back to a day when, craving Band Aids and skeleton keys, he made midwinter flyovers in a rubber-band-propelled helicopter. Gun brings him home to days of craving when the air was gray and clouds muted the sun’s rays, and he monitored from on high the comings and goings at his sister’s dollhouse with the whirlybird he called Peacekeeper. The smell of the gun gives rise to summer when sunshine acts on plastic to warm the grassy water inside. A barefooted boy breaks from a grove of trees and running from lawn to lawn to meet the enfilade head-on reloads at a neighbor’s spigot. The reverie ends with a report from Cleveland in 2014.

There’s a guy here with a pistol.

You know it’s probably fake,

but he’s like pointing it at everybody.

An airsoft pistol is a facsimile weapon indistinguishable from the genuine article.

There’s a black male on the swings…

he keeps pulling a gun out of his pants

and pointing at people.

In a dinnertime prayer for Tamir, the head of the household says of his own safe son

May all boys be psalms

sung before guns get drawn.


The laddies learned what they learned about race relations from the books they read in school and lessons learned from their cunning instructors. It was also all over the media.