An op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post had as its headline a question that I had been asking myself since I viewed the video that inspired the column. The article is titled “Why is America celebrating the beating of a black child?”
The child in question is the 16-year-old son of Toya Graham, a black Baltimore mother. The video, which as of today has been viewed 7 million times, shows Graham chasing after, slapping, and cursing up a storm at the teen for taking part in the mob violence that descended on the city Monday.
Graham, who has since been hailed by many on both sides of the political spectrum as a hero, is a single mother (of six) and unemployed.
I think the article’s author, Stacey Patton, raises an excellent question, though she and I part company when it comes to finding an answer. Patton, who herself is black, explains Graham’s 15 minutes of celebrity by observing that “in this country, when black mothers fulfill stereotypes of mammies, angry and thwarting resistance to a system designed to kill their children, they get praised.”
Though there may be some truth to that observation, a claim that Patton makes a few sentences later comes far closer to identifying the root of the problem. “Legions of black parents,” she writes, “equate pain with protection and love.” Therein, I believe, lies the rub. It’s not having a single or out-of-work parent alone that contributes to delinquency of the sort on display in Baltimore at the height of the unrest. Its violence in the home, which — worse still — is rehearsed without a lick of embarrassment or self-awareness in the public square.
I can understand Toya Graham’s frustration with her son and her fear, which she expressed a day later in one of her many interviews with the media, that by provoking the men in blue he risks becoming the next Freddie Gray. But how does she square that fear with her public humiliation of her child, which included a spate of F-bombs?
Charity, it is said, begins at home. But so do models of behavior and codes of conduct that children carry with them as they venture on their own.
I agree with Stacey Patton that there is a problem with praising Toya Graham’s actions. But it is the soft bigotry of low expectations that explains why she is being hailed as a hero.