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Baltimore riots mom: Stereotype becomes mascot

Toya Graham, the mother videotaped slapping her son and pulling him out of a riot this week, says it was very upsetting to see him there. The videotape of Graham slapping her son has been viewed worldwide. (April 30) AP
Toya Graham, the mother videotaped slapping her son and pulling him out of a riot this week, says it was very upsetting to see him there. The videotape of Graham slapping her son has been viewed worldwide. (April 30) AP

Millions have seen the video of the mother smacking her son in the head, grabbing him forcefully, cursing him.

She was upset that he had been participating in a week-long protest in Baltimore that had become, for one day at least, a riot.

“You gonna be out here doing this?” Toya Graham yelled at her 16-year-old son, who was wearing a mask and dressed in black from head-to-toe.

Some hailed her as mother of the year, with one newspaper quipping that mothers, not cops, should have been sent in to restore order.

“Get the [expletive] over here. Get over here now,” she told her son as he tried to get away from her pummeling.

Others watched the video and saw parental abuse.

Not a few, including President Obama, saw a “thug.”

I saw my mother and my eight brothers.

I saw a young man doing something idiotic and dangerous, caught up in events much larger than himself, events he likely doesn’t even understand.

I did not see a thug.

In him, I saw a potential lawyer or mechanic or responsible father, if provided the right tools and guidance.

In her, I saw a love turned desperate and afraid, Graham’s slaps to her son’s head an attempt to save him from his unthinking self.

“That's my only son and at the end of the day I don't want him to be a Freddie Gray,” Graham told CBS News in a discussion about the 25-year-old man whose mysterious death while in police custody sparked the protests. “I just lost it. I was shocked, I was angry.”

Some see her as a hero. It’s odd, though, because before she was caught on video doing what countless other mothers like her — she’s single, with six kids — have been doing for years, those who now see her as a hero had all-too-frequently painted women like her lazy, undisciplined moochers who cared more about remaining on the public dole than properly raising their children.

They didn’t celebrate women like Graham; they vilified her.

They believed she sat on her couch everyday smoking cigarettes, maybe downing a liter of Pepsi, or two, and didn’t give a darn about her kid’s school work or well being.

All women like Graham wanted, they argued again and again and again, was a monthly welfare check and a few dollars of food stamps.

She knew nothing about personal responsibility.

She avoided hard work like the plague.

She had nothing positive or significant to add to the world.

That is, until she knocked her son upside his head out of an anger and frustration that momentarily rendered her “out of her mind” desperate.

Until her video went viral, they ignored women like Graham, then imagined them only as a stereotype to scare up votes. They wrote the children of women like Graham off as not worthy of saving.

They’ve now turned Graham into a mascot, using her to admonish others like her.

It’s easier that way.

It’s easier to send her a phony, celebratory clap from afar than going into neighborhoods like hers to provide assistance — better schools, better job opportunities, better health care — in raising children she desperately loves.

It’s easy to call her hero, hard to muster the courage to be hero enough to provide her the help she needs.

Contact ISSAC BAILEY at ibailey@thesunnews.com or on Twitter @TSN_IssacBailey.

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