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‘A Christmas Story’ and a Cleveland Story: A Tale of Two Holiday Seasons

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

The 2020 winter-holiday season is in full mode, with Hanukkah beginning a few days ago, Christmas and Kwanzaa on the way, and New Year’s Eve only upon us in only a few weeks. There are plans for many to celebrate while staying at home, perhaps fighting a bit of cabin fever, but—for the most part—content in front of their televisions tuning in to watch programs that are considered by some to be holiday classics. In the United States, holiday television programming often centers on Christmas-centric shows such as “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” “Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and, of course, “A Christmas Story.”

Each year, the 1983 movie set in Depression-era Indiana starring Peter Billingsley as 9-year-old blond-haired blue-eyed Ralphie Parker, is shown throughout December. Based on autobiographical stories from author Jean Shepherd, “A Christmas Story” has spawned a number of mainstream cultural references in the United States, such as the “triple-dog dare,” and a replica of the film’s lamp created in the shape of a women’s leg that has become a popular Christmas decoration to sit among sparkling lights and a decorated tree. The premise of the movie is centered on Ralphie’s efforts to convince his parents to give him a Red Ryder carbine-action range-model BB gun, which he is gifted on Christmas.

On Nov. 22, 2014, in Cleveland, Ohio, Tamir Rice, another child who was 12 years old, was playing in the snow-patched park of a recreation center located across the street from his home. Like Ralphie, Tamir eventually was given a toy gun before this outing. He brought the toy with him when he visited the playground whose patches of snow served as a harbinger of a winter wonderland that would shortly be upon the town—perfect for children to engage in a carefree afternoon. Tamir entered the park area, similar to how Ralphie is able to take his toy gun outside to play in “A Christmas Story.” Unlike Ralphie, Tamir was a young Black child and the world didn’t view these two children in the same way.

Speaking with ABC News in July, Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, described her son as “mommy’s baby.” Tamir never had the opportunity to go home after playing, enter the house, and have his mother ask questions about his day was spent playing across the street, before being told to go wash up for dinner. Perhaps Tamir would have had a teasing exchange with his older siblings before sitting down for an evening meal.

After a neighbor reported the presence of someone in the park with a gun, cops from the Cleveland Police Department arrived to the scene. They shot and murdered Tamir—a child who was playing in the snow. Tamir’s sister never had the opportunity to call him home for dinner on that November day. Upon seeing her brother lying on the ground dying, Tamir’s sister—also a child, who was 14 years old at the time—was tackled by cops, handcuffed, and detained in the back of the patrol car, treated as a criminal.

This article is not the first story to cover the connection between Tamir Rice’s murder and the privilege of “A Christmas Story”—we should hope it’s not the last, as recognizing this parallel matters. In this article, the aim is not to dissuade anyone from watching “A Christmas Story,” nor is it a suggestion to forego holiday celebrations.

This piece serves as a reminder. It is a reminder that there are historically two distinctive stories within each American tale of life. The story of a young American child having his or her heart set on playing carefree in this country always splinters off into two different tales. One tale affords the freedom to enjoy carefree holidays to white children who grow into adulthood without the fear of systemic racism. The other tale is that of Black children who grow never liberated from the confines within a culture that affords neither care nor freedom from this hateful system.

This season should be filled with joy, as families spend time together, and gratitude for any health that has sustained loved ones during 2020. Yet many, including Tamir Rice’s family, are still missing those who will never again enjoy their own festive, joyful holidays due to a history of violence deeply rooted in systemic racism that prevents Black children from enjoying the carefree childhood experiences of their white peers. During the holidays, watch your favorite movies, hold your loved ones close, yet also remember those children lost to the dangers of deadly systemic racism and visit the Tamir Rice Foundation. Never forget this young child lost and his family that is forever changed.

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