Poignant pictures are spilling out of Baltimore. Photos of what we may soon regard as the latest protest in our “Spring” movement show brave bodies in various states of resistance. Some with faces covered, others brazenly identifiable — but all filled with the justifiable rage of living in what feels like a police state where black lives definitely do not matter.
As a scholar of black parenting, one picture stood out from the rest, one that surprisingly united folks from across the ideological divide on “acceptable” forms of protest. First reported on CNN, which has recently come under fire for their selective and sensationalized reporting, the photo shows Toya Graham and her 16-year-old son who, with face covered and rock in hand, had been a part of the resistance events of Monday afternoon. With the cameras rolling, Graham repeatedly smacked and hit the teen upside his head, obviously incensed by what she was seeing and his presence. (I choose not to link to it here.)
Graham had become #MomOfTheYear. For those who saw “thugs” and “looters,” here was a black mother determined that her son not be a criminal. For those who saw “people tearing up their own community,” here was a black mother who seemingly advocated for non-violent protest, in the style of the MLK of revisionist history. On both sides, here was — finally — a black parent who cared. (Even Oprah said so!)
I understand why she did what she did. Fear is a powerful motivator. So is love. As a black mother of black boys, I understand that if my 16 year old child was in the streets throwing rocks at the police, justifiably or not, I would want nothing more than to snatch him up and take him home. I likely would not have beat him over the head, but I would have done everything else in my power to get him off the street and Take. Him. Home. That’s the love of a parent who wants to protect her child. I hope, in her children’s eyes, that she is their mom of the year.
But she’s not THE mom of the year.
She’s the poster child of the moment for how we see black responsibility for the conditions in which we find ourselves.