SAN DIEGO – Toya Graham has earned one heck of a Mother’s Day present.
Not only did the Baltimore mother do the right thing last week by confronting her wayward son, Michael, when she saw the 16-year-old in the middle of a street protest holding a brick. But, since becoming an overnight celebrity, Graham has had to suffer fools who are only too eager to second-guess her method of keeping the young man on the straight and narrow in a crime-ridden neighborhood where, she says, a parent is never sure if her child will come home safe at night.
The unemployed single mother of six waded into the chaos to look for her son. There, she saw a young man in a hoodie. And although he was wearing a mask, she recognized him. Video footage shows Graham furiously grabbing her son’s sweater, shouting at him, and shoving him toward her car. It also shows her slapping him in the head. The young man was in full retreat, trying to get away from his mother.
Graham would later tell reporters that all Michael could say at the time was “OK, Mom. OK.” Michael told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that, once his mother got her hands on him, “it was World War III.” And a lopsided battle at that. The young man took a serious beating.
Now for the fools, many of whom have gathered on Twitter to offer unsolicited opinions:
▪ One tweet said that Graham is “whats wrong with america. 6 kids, no fathers stuck around, no job.”
▪ Another declared: “it disgusts me how many black women are applauding what was none other than the desensitizing of a young black man’s masculinity.”
▪ A third insisted: “Either Toya Graham gets her 6 kids taken away … or CLOSE DOWN CPS [Child Protective Services]!”
A freelance contributor to The Washington Post’s website described how Graham became a hero: “In this country, when black mothers fulfill stereotypes of mammies, angry and thwarting resistance to a system designed to kill their children, they get praised.”
Really? Some writers cover issues; but this one obviously has a few of her own. This story isn’t about mammies. It’s about mommies. How dare anyone judge this woman.
A lock for Mother of the Year, Graham had no desire to see her son get swept up in the bedlam where roving gangs looted stores, set fires and attacked police officers. What began as a protest over the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, whose spinal cord was nearly severed while in the care of the Baltimore Police Department, became about destroying as much as possible.
If the critics are wrong, they’ll lose the argument. But if Graham is wrong, she could lose her son to the streets.
Haters gonna hate. Give some people a silver lining, and they’ll find a cloud. Everything is a call to negativity and criticism. Some of it is motivated by jealousy. These days, if someone gets 15 minutes of fame, she can also count on at least two weeks of sniping.
While many Americans are applauding Graham for taking responsibility for her child – something that a lot of parents won’t do these days – others want to throw cold water on the narrative and attack the mother.
As to how we got so far off course, it doesn’t help that Americans have a habit of taking any story and shoehorning it to advance their own agenda. Now some are trying to co-opt the tale of the Hero Mom. A story that is about good parenting has become about spanking, public shaming, single mothers, absent fathers, the welfare state and – in one of the more far-fetched assertions – the claim by some African-Americans that white people enjoy seeing young black men “emasculated” in public.
The last item is troubling. If Michael was “emasculated” when his mother demanded that he behave better, does it follow that the “masculine” thing is to hide behind a mask and hurl bricks at police? If so, we’re in trouble.
“What he was doing, it was just unacceptable,” Graham told the hosts of “CBS This Morning.”
What about the parents of other rioters? Do they think what their kids were doing – the violence and looting – was acceptable? Hero Mom shouldn’t be criticized. She should be honored and emulated.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.