Way back in time one of the games we played was cowboys and indians. Not a very politically correct game anymore. We had cowboy hats, holsters, toy guns and toy stars and of course toy handcuffs. The Lone Ranger being one spark to our culturally inappropriate games.
Handcuffs fascinated me. Simple sturdy metal. Like most toys of my childhood made from sturdy metal. Plastic was still off in the future.
They look almost real – real enough to be used to scare the less critical into thinking these are real kid size cuffs. But no fear – they have quick release buttons on the side. No keys involved at all. Now toy cuffs are plastic. Well except for the adult-play kind which tend to be fur-lined and more exotic.
Still I remember being locked up with these toy cuffs and how easy it was to pop the buttons. Or when the button jammed pulling on the soft metal S-hook connector until the cuffs popped apart.
You can still find these at flea-markets and online via antique sites. There is a large selection for sale over on e-bay.
Our children don’t play those same games anymore because at their heart those games reflected a cultural divide. The game inherently contained social judgement that the “cowboys” were the good guys, and the indians the bad guys. And that is simply a nonsensical colonial narrative that served to justify unspeakable abuse and horror. Of course we haven’t really grown that much or that far from when this abuse was acceptable. We just like to pretend that we are more mature, more civilized, and more accepting.
Growing up in “white” Ontario I was often mistaken for a “native”. Through my teen years I was given various nicknames that reflected my vaguely “indian” features. These were not terms of endearment. I remember sneaking into a bar and having an older white man comment: “who da f’ck let the f’cking ‘skimo in here? That wasn’t that long ago – and that “older” attitude still percolates close to the surface of our civilized veneer.
It is rather disquieting how an innocent childhood toy can be a defining metaphor for institutionalized hatred and oppression. Yet there it is – a toy that is no longer a toy. A toy embedded with yesterdays sorrow.
Over the years we culturally have changed. We are more diverse. More accepting. And we have invented other cultural ghosts to terrorize our xenophobia. Still we mostly are getting better. At least we are better at saying “sorry”. The reality is there is still such a long long way to go.