Incomplete Thoughts on Emmett Till, Tamir Rice, Caskets, and Gazebos

By Jaylin Paschal

It's crucially important that we don't make martyrs out of dead black children.


At the Smithsonian African American History and Culture Museum, I stood in line for fifteen minutes to look at the casket Emmett Till was buried in. The gazebo Tamir Rice was slaughtered in front of in a Cleveland, OH park was moved to Chicago's Stony Island Arts Bank.

It's not shocking (Surprising, maybe, but not shocking.) that these two tombs were chosen for museums, as both are relevant to historical and contemporary conversations regarding race relations and the deadliness of blackness in white spaces/society/supremacy.

In modern discussion, you will often see the case of Emmett Till paired with or juxtaposed to that of Tamir Rice. The stories of these two black boys intersect in the most painful ways. Snatched out of their youth, both while in times of recreation, these black boys' stories awakened the American sociopolitical scene to a harsh truth: Our children are not exempt from racism. And, in fact, their vulnerability increases their likelihood of experiencing it in its most brutal form. Because the stories of both boys invigorated already-existing racial tensions, they both served as forces behind already-existing social movements. Since their deaths, they've been remembered as little boys while conceptualized into symbols, ideals, and talking points.

We will never forget their names. Pain is always eternalized.

Likewise, pain is often memorialized. And, sometimes, it is archived--museumed. But for what reasons? And at what costs? What happens when we take little black boy death from symbol, or ideal, or talking point to exhibit; something to stand in line for a glimpse of? Does it matter? Is there a difference?

Jaylin PaschalComment