I almost hate to blog about Baltimore. For one thing, everybody is talking about Baltimore, and for another, I don’t know exactly what I can add to the conversation. I am probably the whitest white girl in existence, and if I try to talk about racism in the US or police violence against black men and women, I will probably get something wrong out of sheer lack of experience. For whatever it’s worth, my heart goes out to the families and communities of the people who have been victimized by the people that are supposed to be protecting our communities. I cannot imagine the heartbreak and anger they experience when again and again, our justice system minimizes and excuses these hateful and reprehensible crimes. I applaud them for the bravery they’ve shown in going out to protest these injustices. I don’t know if I could be that brave in the face of systemic oppression.
And that brings me to the woman who’s being referred to in the news and on social media as #momoftheyear.
You can read the story anywhere on the internet right now. It boils down to this: that woman in yellow is the mother of the 16 year old child in the hood and mask up there. She spotted him in the thick of one of the riot that was occurring in Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray’s funeral. She grabbed him, she yelled, she hit him in the head, and she sent him home. And now she’s an internet meme.
I’m seeing her pop up over and over again on Facebook, and all too often, the discussion turns into some sort of grotesque extension of the Mommy Wars. Proponents of corporal punishment applaud her, peaceful parenting advocates deride her. I think they’re both missing the point.
This is NOT a parenting debate, not should it be. This is only newsworthy because of the events that created the situation that prompted this photo op, and that should be the focus. Turning it into a debate between spankers and non-spankers diminishes the issue.
I do not know if that woman is normally in favor of corporal punishment or not, nor do I care. I do know that she loves her son. That she wanted him out of the streets that day. That she wanted him alive. For all I know, she saved his life.
I do not know how I would react if I were in her shoes. Maybe the same way, maybe not. I can’t even imagine it. I know that I love my sons intensely, and if I saw them putting themselves in harm’s way, I would probably react with panic and fury. As a white mother with a white son, I don’t typically worry that when my child is out walking the streets, he’s going to be harassed by the police or shot by either a policeman or some NRA member who’s memorized the text of the Stand Your Ground laws. This mother has to worry about that on a good day, which is a fucking shame in and of itself. I can’t even imagine how bad that must be, nevermind how much worse it would be to see your child in that place at that time in that context. The closest thing I can equate it to is seeing your toddler trying to dart into traffic on a busy road. At a minimum, you’d grab them, as hard as you had to to stop them before they got to the street, right? In the heat of the moment, you might even yell or shake them or spank them, if for no other reason than the hope that next time, they’d associate the busy road with the shock of a yell or a spank.
Is that the way you would normally handle a 16 year old? Of course not. Could she have handled it differently? I’m sure that’s possible. But I don’t think it’s fair to judge her for her actions in what must have been a terrifying moment for her. And I applaud her for recognizing her child and getting him out of there, however it happened. I actually don’t think hitting is the best parenting tool. I’m not saying that it was OK in this instance or that it was an exception, I’m saying that it simply doesn’t matter. It was one moment in their lives, and it was a highly charged and potentially dangerous moment. It doesn’t tell us anything about this woman, her parenting style, her son, or their overall life. Not one thing. in not a parenting issue. It’s one small snapshot of a moment that has a larger context.
That larger context is what’s important here. Why was that child out on that street with his hood and mask? Maybe out of anger, knowing that people his community were being mistreated and abused by the supposed keepers of the peace? Maybe out of fear and anger, feeling that the same thing thing could happen to him, and it’s better to strike before you’re struck? I don’t know what was in his mind specifically, but I know that riot, along with the peaceful protests, were happening for a reason. I think addressing that is more important than handing out parenting rewards or criticisms. This scene wouldn’t have happened if Freddie Gray were still alive, if the Baltimore police had a history of fairness, if the United States were a place without unaddressed racial tensions. Let’s keep that in mind, and not get distracted from the real issues at play here.