Patrick Perion is a child abuse investigator in the Mid West
In the ongoing unrest and rioting in Baltimore and the media coverage of it, several narratives have emerged. The one that is getting all kinds of play is the “Mom in Yellow”, Toya Graham. People from the Police Commissioner Anthony Batts to Lester Holt have praised Ms. Graham for grabbing and beating her son on camera to get him to disengage from potential rioting. This thinking is naive at best and dangerously reckless at worst.
There has long been a myth in America that says, essentially, ‘Black parents need to beat their kids so the cops won’t have to.’ This myth is not just perpetuated by African American people but is reinforced by White people who think if African American people are “respectable” they won’t get harassed by law enforcement.
This myth has led to an uncountable number of child abuse reports that I have investigated in the last 21 years. Nationally African American children make up 14% of the population yet 31% of the foster care children are African American. In Illinois the numbers are shocking. Black children make up 18% of the population and 68% of the foster care population.
The fundamental problem with the “Mom in Yellow” narrative is the underlying racism that blames black mothers for their sons being hassled by police. “If only they had raised their boys right,” you might hear from African American people, but really it comes mostly from white people. Unfortunately I also hear it from far too many colleagues. Sadly, this myth has not prevented incarceration or death for African American people. It has only reinforced generation after generation of whites thinking that if ‘they’ just ‘behave’ they won’t be unfairly targeted.
Now, specifically referencing the Ms. Graham, I fundamentally understand that she was trying to save her son. I have no problem with that. My quarrel is that by physically hitting and punching him, she was not only lauded as a hero, her behavior reinforced so many stereotypes of black mothers, it made me a little sick.
Ms. Graham’s physical assault reinforced the myth I’ve described above, but it also reinforced the myth and extremely racist trope of the “angry black woman”. It reinforced the racist trope that the only way to control a young black man is to be more violent. Commissioner Batts actually said he ‘wished more parents would take control’ of their children like the Mom in Yellow did.
All of this thinking is exactly why Baltimore happened. Beating African American children hasn’t solved the problems of cops targeting African Americans. Black people being respectable hasn’t stopped their oppression by whites. Freddy Gray was probably disciplined by his parents and told to watch out for the police and he’s still dead.
It’s incredibly easy to offer simplistic solutions like “I wish more parents were like the Mom in Yellow”. The complex issues that affect the African American community aren’t so easily answered. Those issues will continue to plague Baltimore and America forever. No amount of “beating them before the cops do” is going to change the color of black people’s skin.
This article originally appeared on the author’s personal blog