Single mother Toya Graham of Baltimore, Md. has become an ostensibly heroic figure in the wake of the unrest over the death of Freddie Gray. Dubbed “Mom of the Year” by social media denizens and praised by Baltimore’s police chief as the exemplar of inner-city motherdom, Graham spoke out Wednesday about the confrontation with her son that was caught on video Monday. For her part, Toya Graham says she doesn’t feel like a hero, and just wanted to protect her son from the same fate that befell Freddie Gray:
“He gave me eye contact. And at that point, you know, not even thinking about cameras or anything like that. That’s my only son and at the end of the day I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray.”
Toya Graham’s fame reached all the way to the White House Wednesday when CBS News’ Major Garrett asked Press Secretary Josh Earnest to weigh in on the video and its star. At Wednesday’s daily briefing, Garret asked Earnest if President Obama had seen Graham’s interaction with her son, and whether it was something he would approve of. Earnest said he was confident that President Obama had seen it, but would only offer his own assessment:
“The thing that resonated with me is — was her expression that she was concerned about her son facing the same fate as Freddie Gray. And while I’m sure that it was not the immediate reaction of her son to feel like she was looking out for his best interest, there is no doubting that her reaction was one that was rooted in her concern for his safety and his well-being and her love for her child.
“And I think that is a very powerful expression about the role that parents can play, that that expression of love was very conspicuous, and one that I think will serve as a powerful influence on that young man’s life. That same kind of passion and concern, and love, for the well-being of one’s child is the kind of thing that can contribute to a young man or woman having the type of opportunity to succeed that a lot of other kids don’t get.”
As regular Banter guest contributor Patrick Perion pointed out, however, Toya Graham is being lionized by many people who miss the point. Toya Graham told CBS News This Morning that this isn’t the first time she’s had to intervene with her son in this way, and those interventions did not keep him from picking up a rock on Monday.
What Earnest gets right is that Ms. Graham’s act was an expression of love, but also one of desperation at the forces arrayed against her son. It’s a fear that all parents can relate to, but multiplied a thousandfold for a mother whose child doesn’t have to be holding a rock, or anything at all, to end up dead. She knows that even being “respectable” might not save him, telling CBS “There’s some days that I’ll shield him in the house just so he won’t go outside and I know that I can’t do that for the rest of my life.”
The fact is that there really is no safe place to be young and black, and the people who wish for more mothers like Toya Graham have it backwards. There shouldn’t be any mothers who feel that sort of desperation.