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This Baltimore Mom And Her Son Are Not Your Ticket To Condemn The Protests

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By now, you’ve heard about the situation in Baltimore. You’ve read about Freddie Gray, you’ve seen news coverage and think pieces, you’ve seen pictures of people yelling in the streets and burned out police cars, and probably more than anything else in the past 24 hours, you’ve seen the posts about a scared mom, Toya Graham, smacking her masked son in the head repeatedly for participating in the protests. The New York Post even gave the story a cover:

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The coverage about Graham rubbed me the wrong way when I first saw it, and it wore on me more and more as I watched the story go viral. White friends of mine posted it over and over again with captions like, “My momma would beat the crap out of me for rioting, too,” or “Looks like somebody is gettin’ a whoopin’!” I watched this mom get reduced from a person to a prop and used to defend racist stereotypes and ugly words. Suddenly, it became okay for white people to voice heinous opinions about these protests because, “See? This lady agrees with me! She wants to protect the CVS too!

Never mind that this mom came out and said she did what she did because she doesn’t want her son to be the next Freddie Gray. Never mind that privileged white people, myself included, cannot even begin to speculate on what this mom was thinking or what her real motivations were in that moment. Never mind the senseless death of Freddie Gray and the real, ugly reasons people were out in the streets in the first place.

Over the course of a day white people co-opted this woman’s response and made it about them. They held her up as an example of their own righteousness in condemning black anger they were too ignorant or too scared to confront, and they used her as a shield to avoid addressing the real problems that plague not only the city of Baltimore, but the black community as a whole; problems caused and exacerbated by white people and our complicity in a system that disparages, degrades, and murders black people without consequence.

According to The Root, federal data on fatal police shootings from 2010 to 2012 revealed young black men are 21 times more likely than whites to be shot dead by police. Of 15 teens shot fleeing arrest from 2010-2012, 14 of them were black. 78% of fatal shootings by police in those years involved black men. The focus on Toya Graham fits neatly within a white narrative that wants to blame these protests on “thugs” and criminals who just need a “whoopin’ from momma” and wants to ignore the stark reality that Toya Graham’s son faces dangers out on the streets that we couldn’t possibly understand just for being who he is: a young black man.

Is Toya Graham a hero? Is she Mother Of The Year? I don’t know. What I do know is that her actions and her story belong to her. She is not a prop, and whatever responsibility she takes for her son’s actions does not absolve white people of the responsibility we hold for the continued oppression and violence inflicted on people like her son every day, in every city across this country. Yes, Toya Graham dragged her kid in off the streets, but let’s not forget who and what she was dragging him away from.