The image has been circulated worldwide, in newspapers, on television and over social media; the Black Baltimore mother who beats her son down for being out with protesters on the streets demanding justice for the death of Freddie Gray. The story line is that she saw him on television, throwing a rock when he should have been in school. The mother wasted no time in dispensing her own form of justice and delivers several blows to the retreating young man, in full view of television cameras.
For her actions this mother is being hailed a hero. News media has elevated her to sainthood status and many are suggesting that she saved her son from the possibility of arrest or worse, death. Conservatives are all over this story, applauding the mother for doing what they say a parent should and gleefully celebrating how this young man is handled. Funny thing though, these are the same people who absolve police of any responsibility in the harassment and killing of Black youth, and habitually demonize young Black men. The simple fact that right-wing zealots are championing this mom should raise suspicions. These people could give a damn about Black children and in another breath will be excoriating the Black mother, as they do most Black women.
The ‘beat some sense into them’ mentality in the Black community upsets and angers me. It is a sorry cultural heirloom. The popular notion that if we simply beat our kids they would do better is baseless. We have generations of Black children who were disciplined in that manner and it did not make them better; it made them bitter and saddled them with anger and resentment. We have treated our children as punching bags and then we wonder why they are so angry. Every time I see a ‘shaming’ video on social media with an adult viciously beating a child to teach a lesson, it makes me cringe. How do we think a public beat down is healthy and will not result in our children turning the tables on someone else? If we think beating children is acceptable, then why are we complaining when police do the same?
It is also disturbing that a Black woman is being hailed as a model mother for beating her child. As this imagery is projected around the globe we have the likes of Rand Paul making specious claims that the root cause of the Baltimore crisis is the absence of Black fathers. So, in their place we are to encourage Black women to beat their children to keep them in line. Black women are being portrayed as confrontational, violent and out of control; just watch any of the reality television poison being peddled to America. If a Black father had showed up and beat his son down, these same celebrants would be calling for the man’s arrest. Paul, like so many others, Republican and Democrat, are silent to the manner in which public policy works against Black men, the maintenance of two-parent households among the poor and working class, and how mass incarceration has become a cottage industry with Black men as the primary product. We are being told our options are parental beat downs, police brutality or prison abuse. Where is the humanity for Black children?
Have we even asked this young man why he was on the street, rock in hand? Prior to her ‘rescue’ did this mother have any substantive discussions with her son on his experiences in the community? Has this young man had any encounters with the Baltimore police or perhaps witnessed his friends being harassed? The quick praise of this mother deprives us of finding out what this young man is feeling; what he is experiencing in a city that should be home but in which he is treated as an outsider by institutional structures designed to simply keep him in his place. A few more questions please and a few less flying hands.
I get it; raising a child, particularly a young Black man, as a single parent is tough. I know because I was raised by one from age twelve. And I know my mother worried about me every day, including those years spent in Baltimore as a college student and afterward. However, I do recall having a very frank conversation with my mother at age 13 about my need to define myself. She began to see that independent streak in me at age 12 when I directly defied her order not to get a part-time job. She was incensed and there was a tense exchange, and where I received a couple of spankings when I was younger, none deserved of course; by 13 my mother knew those days were over and had to find another way to reach me.
When the world applauds the beating of a Black child, any child for that matter, it should raise all sorts of red flags and bells and whistles should go off. Black children get beat down every day – at home, in neighborhood encounters with gangs and police, in school buildings and outside their community where they are branded the enemy. If a beating is the parental device of choice, then the home just becomes an extension of their external environment. What type of love is that?
The cheering section for this mother on news sets is the height of hypocrisy. These mostly white journalists who have children aren’t beating their children, and trust me, their kids aren’t angels. Yet, they applaud inflicting physical punishment on Black children and slyly wink as it serves a larger purpose. So, now when that young man exhibits resentment he can be called an ‘angry young man’ and when he exhibits aggression toward the police due to mistreatment, their use of force will be excused because the young man was acting out. And when young Black men turn their anger and resentment inward, and lash back at their own community, will anybody remember those whoopings the boys received at home?
I’m not buying the ‘we have to beat our kids’ school of thought. I’m also not accepting police brutality in any form, from verbal abuse to physical force. There is love beyond a hand or a belt strap. We better find it soon because kids, if they survive the streets, become adults and we have some angry, messed up adults.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.