So I am sure many have read about the “mom of the year” who found her son at the Baltimore riots and beat and dragged him home. The controversy is in why she should be praised or regarded as a “hero” by some in the midst of great racial division. One article in particular read, “Dear White America: Toya Graham is NOT Your Hero”. While, I don’t necessary agree with the headline or article, I think there are valid points to consider.
As a mother of a Black male and a single parent, I can understand Ms. Graham in many ways. I had a mother who would have done something similar. From Ms. Graham’s perspective and many mothers of Black sons in general, we have seen the news and we know the system. Systemic racism exists in America, especially towards Black males. Many Black males have been the target of police brutality and harassed unnecessarily. When the whole Trayvon Martin incident arose, I looked at my innocent son, who always seems cold and wears hoodies, and considered how I could protect him from a similar fate. My son is 6’4” and on the slim side but his height and facial expressions at times can easily intimidate someone, yet my son has never participated in any crime or done anything that would get him in trouble with the police, but with the history of our system, the fear exists.
I grew up in the “hood” of Los Angeles. I have seen the good and the bad of poverty and the injustice of our system. In comparison, my son has grown up in diverse neighborhoods and lived mostly in the suburbs of whichever city we lived, thus does not know street life the way I do. He has slowly come to the conclusion that he can be judged on the basis of his skin color versus his character. He has been singled out as the only Black male and realizes there are different standards based on your race. That is unfortunate.
As mothers of Black males, our conversation with our sons is how to respond when being stopped or pulled over by the police. How to not draw attention to themselves. How even with fear of the worst when they may be innocent – do not run. How even if you are with a crowd and you are the only Black male, to know you will not receive the same treatment and could become the scapegoat, as white privilege is real.
The Baltimore Police Commissioner stated, “If you saw in one scene, you had a mother who grabbed their child who had a hood on his head and she started smacking him on the head because she was so embarrassed. I wish I had more parents who took charge of their kids tonight”, this was not embarrassment she felt but fear. So, what was Ms. Graham’s fear? Her fear was that her son had placed himself in a position where “just cause” could be used to kill him. Not just get him arrested, but to kill him. It is not as much as participating in a “riot” and looting as it is that the riot stems from the innocent death of a Black man and her son could have been next. We teach our sons to stay out of trouble and how to not incite the police if approached – meaning not to give a reason, knowing there have been many senseless deaths where no one is held accountable. Yet, also knowing if the child or man had been white, justice would have been different.
So the comments from most watching these “riots” is why are these “thugs” tearing up the city, yet few understand both the pain and frustration of Blacks in a system that continually shows them injustice. Few understand the heartbreak and fear of many mothers who worry if their sons will be part of some random police stop that can result in their demise. For many, the thought of many Blacks is their concerns are not heard unless they destroy what belongs to others (White America) as there doesn’t seem to be concern for what belongs to them – their sons. Hurting people hurt others, sad but true. It is a form of rebelling against a system that still oppresses and ignores us as people. So when you see videos or images like Ms. Graham “beating” her son, she is trying her best to protect him and save him in the only way she knows how. I may not condone it or agree with her approach, but I would do what I have to also to protect my son.
It is so very difficult to get our youth of today, our Black youth, to understand that even though they see rainbows of color and embrace it, this country is not fully there. As people, this is yet another area where we have to reach deep to understand both sides of the problem and then identify where we stand. It is a difficult subject because it is hard to get someone to understand your feelings and actions when they have never walked in your shoes or lived your experience. It is difficult to remain impartial when I know and have seen first hand the inconsistencies and injustice of our system and my heart beats for my son whom I want to protect from this world. It is difficult to express and not be passionate but also not offend someone. It is difficult but it is not impossible if we only, as people, try harder to change this country, this world for the betterment of all. If could all look at these issues and think of how we would feel if that were our child and then make our decisions and actions based on that feeling. If we could remove judgment and have compassion, we may be able to see this situation anew. It may difficult, but again it is not impossible. We all need to own the problem and help to change the system.
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