Hero Mom Toya Graham

No matter that Freddie Gray is dead, no matter that police still haven’t copped to how his spine was nearly severed after his bogus arrest, no matter how local officials turned Baltimore into a war zone against American citizens, no matter that the six officers who were involved in Freddie Gray’s arrest and death are on paid vacations and have yet to so much as give public explanation for their roles much less be held accountable for it, here we are, being bombarded repeatedly with images of hero mom Toya Graham beating the crap out of her son in the street for participating in the Baltimore Uprising and being celebrated by mainstream media for keeping her kid in check and “restoring order.” Frankly, I find it disgusting—the beating and the curious media celebration, which I did my best to articulate in a short segment on HLN earlier this week.

It is my friend, Dr. Stacey Patton, though, who gave Toya Graham’s actions and the subsequent media coverage its proper airing in her most provocative and insightful Washington Post piece, “Why is America celebrating the beating of a black child?” Read it. Right now. Hero mom Toya Graham is no hero. She and her son, Michael Singleton, are pawns. Know this. And then come back and take a look at that picture up top, and Dr. Patton’s most righteous breakdown of why it is so incredibly problematic.


I HATE this photograph!

So many things about it are so deeply disturbing to me.
Look at young Michael’s expression and his body language. Does he look like he is a willing participant in this national media foolywang?

Look at him closely. Most of his face is a darkened shadow. No anger in his squinting eyes. Everybody is smiling warmly but him. His shoulders are tensed and squared away from the others, hands on full display down and pressed against his thighs like a good non-threatening boy. See, America, no rocks in these hands. One leg is perched forward to give him an island of comfort steadying himself for the pose so America can continue to celebrate this faux redemptive racial moment. So white America can enjoy its stereotype and black Americans can use it to say, “See, not all black mamas are seeds of deviant criminal offspring. Black mamas discipline their kids and teach them respect for authority.”

Look at Cooper, looking like a scrubbed-faced racial tourist, dressed in all black everything to accentuate his gleaming whiteness. Under the guise of journalism he gets to have an Out of Africa moment in one of America’s most blighted citadels of white supremacy. Under any other circumstance do you believe Cooper would walk down the street and get this close to a black juvenile from the ‘hood who is taller than he? Michael’s body and face give us the answer.

That sloping right shoulder of his asks: “Why is this white dude touching me? This dude’s hand can go right ahead and slide all the way off me. The only time white men in Baltimore touch black kids like me is when they are stopping us in our own neighborhoods, when they push us against dirty walls, throw us down on pissy sidewalks, when they search our pockets, lift our shirts, grab our testicles when they frisk us, beat us, handcuff us, throw us in jail, kill us, conduct our autopsies sometimes more than once and zip us up and send our corpses back to our mamas.”

Look at Michael. The whole world already witnessed him getting assaulted. Then the news media pimped him out for back-to-back TV interviews where he had to talk about how wrong he was and how he understands that his mama swung on him because she loves him and wants to keep him safe. Ask yourself, what child wants to become a celebrity because he got repeatedly knocked upside his head and cussed out by his mama? And then have to pose for the camera so everybody can see what a child looks like post-whooping?

And look at his mama, pretty and smiling. One side of her face is shaded by a flowing weave, the sunlight hitting the other side just the right way to give her the appearance of a warm and loving mama clutching her youngest babe. Anderson’s body is placed between her and Michael. She welcomes Cooper as he leans in close to her, like a mammy, giving him the hug she should have given her son. We still haven’t seen a picture of her hugging Michael yet, have we? And yet she is the bridge between white America’s interests and her “thug” son who had stepped out of line. I imagine that she probably said, “Smile Michael.”

White conservatives and black people who believed that black kids need “a good whooping” can look at this photograph and say, “Aw now look at that. All is restored. This mom helped take back our streets. Her son is alive today because she put him in check. That’s a good responsible black mother. We need more like her!”

Meanwhile young Michael and nameless faceless legions more like him will continue to bear the brunt of the mean-spiritedness of mainstream life in America. White and black people can look at this photo and use it to promote their commitment to physical discipline of children and continue to believe the mythology that black children’s behavior is the true enemy of peace, not racism or the white aggression that fuels their parent’s fear which makes it necessary to beat them so they can live.

Fuck this picture!

Reprinted with permission from Dr. Patton’s Facebook page.

Stacey Patton, Ph.D. is a senior enterprise reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education. She is the author of That Mean Old Yesterday—A Memoir and the creator of www.sparethekids.com.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. The vitriol directed toward this woman is kind of horrifying to me.

    I am not a spectator in this, nor am I someone with a doctorate here to break down in detail the problems with photos. I am a Baltimorean. I live here. I work here. I am not looking at a photo. I see these children, in real life, every day. I see the stress, fear and pain of mothers like Toya every day, working with what they can and doing the best they can to give their children what they can with what tools they have. And as someone who invests my time here, to call this woman a mammy with no investment here of your own, I see that you are just as out of touch with “us” as the white media who has taken this moment and spun it for their own purposes. In that moment, Toya acted out of fear. If you actually listen to Toya talk about this moment, she does not say that she was trying to stop him from rioting, she says that she wanted to stop him from dying. Answer this for me: Have you ever seen your child on the wrong end of a police weapon? I have seen my brother there. I have seen my friends there. Experience that kind of fear before you dole out this kind of judgment.

    To deny her the ability to react without having the entire weight of the black race on her shoulders is to deny this woman a HUMAN reaction, whether you agree with her tactics or not. And at the end of the day, if you want to be upset about what happens in Baltimore, please direct your energy toward being upset about the fact that our young men are so devastated, so unheard, so unrecognized, and care so little about their own lives that they would think nothing of throwing a rock at someone holding a gun, than to direct hatred toward the woman who pulled him out from in front of it.

    • I didn’t think of it from this perspective. Now I’m torn. I understand both points. To applaud a mother for beating her kid into submissive obedience for white comfort is sickening. On the other hand, I fully understand a mother panicking at the idea of her son becoming another hashtag at the hands of armed police officers. This is a hard one.

  2. No that is worth celebrating. He was out of control and she is relentless. Where your kids at? What they doing? Or do you know?

  3. When I first saw this , I agreed that she did the right thing but after reading pieces like this one written by folks who disagree with her actions, I have to admit to being torn. I think she did keep her son from meetin a fate that could have been worse than getting slapped upside the head. I don’t agree with parents beating their children, and I don’t beat my. However, I do agree with doing what is necessary to keep your child from becoming another hashtag, another reason to riot, and another example of the injustice in this country. I can see both perspectives

  4. After reading this, I no longer even want to come onto this website. To call this mom a mammy for disciplining her son is ludacris! If she dosent dicipline him then someone else will such as a cop who could kill him, or a peer who is angry. Ill be damned if someone chastize me about disciplining mine, especially doing somehing as dumb as this! If those cops were not being televised, that little boy may have been shot,tazzed,arressted. and then he would have become another damn STATISTIC!
    As Aja stated, she acted out of fear. I have two black sons, if I would have saw either of them down there, my husband would have had to grab me up before i got a hold of them bc i would have been on them like white on RICE!

    Those police could have killed him because of his senseless act. This lady has 6 children so I know she is worried about their lives. I have two boys and I worry constantly about everything they are doing, so to have 6 I can only imagine whats going through this “MAMMYS” head.

    Yall are so out of touch. This post is IGNORANT.

    Yall disected the picture to no return, the sun could have been in the boys face, he probably didnt want the white man touching him either though, and i dont blame him bc they only come out to help when a story can be made from it.

    For this site to be called my brown baby, you all sure are out of touch with the other “brown babies: of the world!

  5. The Cocoa Mom

    As a mother who is Conscious and raising Conscious children, we understand White Supremacy and how it works. Due to that fact, I (a Black mother) would have known why my sons would have been out there throwing rocks. I have 2 Black sons and I raise them every day to stand up for themselves. I know Black people want to keep their heads down and keep Massa happy but some of us, “Black folk” are sick to death of watching our Black sisters and brothers die…regardless of how “good” we are.

    I can’t say what I would have done, whether stop them or let them fight their fight…if I had seen my teenaged sons out there throwing rocks at police. But, I can say I would have understood their frustration and I would NOT have been beating on them.

    Black people are always yelling and beaing their kids to get some kind of “friendship cookie” from strangers and to show White folks that you have your children under control. My children are children and I let them play like any other child. I see White kids and other non-Black children ripping through stores as if they are being paid to race through the aisles while we are forcing our children to “sit still”.

    My boyfriend lives in Baltimore and I am there almost every week. I practically live with him and plan to move there at the end of the October. I see the burned houses, the sad faces, the forgotten communities and the poverty. I did not agree with how Ms. Graham handled the situation. I understand she might have been afraid but she should have simply told her son to come home if she didn’t want him out there. Going out there, wailing on him…how is that cute?

    And THEN for the media to CELEBRATE what she did…HOW PREDICTABLE and DISGUSTING. But that is White Supremacy.

    And WHY is Ms. Graham eating it up…all the attention? If you just feared for your son’s life, get him out of danger and go sit yourself down somewhere. But, of course, she is too lost to realize that the media IS using her for a pawn to teach other Black “mammies” how to keep our children in check.

    I wish I would. I told my sons to do what they feel is right and if they need backup, I will be there. Black men, Black women and Black children are dying for doing nothing at all.

    At what point will we allow our young men to feel their frustrations and begin to fight back?

    She “protected” her son this time but because of people like her…the police and White Supremacy system will be allowed to continue their barbaric behavior and who’s to say that she will be able to save her son next week or next month?

    The violence against Black people MUST END! And it won’t end by us sitting back waiting for Jesus or someone else to fight our battles. The responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Black Youth. They are passionate, educated and strong.

    I don’t wish bad on anyone and I pray God watches over my race as we are surely at a war that never ended since we came to Amerikkka as slaves. But don’t expect this violence to get any better and don’t expect it to end without doing anything.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.