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.
By DR. STACEY PATTON
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.
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.