Thursday, April 30, 2015

The "#Baltimore Mom" and the Perils of Parenting While Black

Earlier this week, citizens of Baltimore took to the streets.  Their actions were a response to the death of Mr. Freddie Gray.  Mr. Gray died after sustaining injuries while in police custody.  But soon, a video taken during the unrest captured the attention of the media.

The video shows Toya Graham, a single mother in Baltimore, running to her only son as he planned to join in the uprising by throwing rocks.  Upon finding her son in the crowd, Ms. Graham swiftly administered corporal punishment.  Ms. Graham has been given the moniker "hero mom."  While I have no qualms about a mother being lauded for taking measures to remove her child from a potentially dangerous situation, something about the praise from certain corners troubles me. 

I believe that much of the praise given to Ms. Graham is based on the false assumption that Black parents do very little to parent their children.  Over at the Wonkette blog, Kalli Joy Gray's piece (link here) does an excellent job of compiling the worst of the latent and blatant racism that has been spat forth since Baltimore began to burn.   In sum, the pundits say, "If these kids just had parents, everything would be okay."

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Black parents do parent their children.  Black parents also discipline their children.   According to poll data from, (link here) African Americans are more likely to state their support for corporal punishment than whites.   But according to an older study (link here), African Americans are not only more likely to spank, they are more likely to use alternative forms of punishment as well.  The article explained: 

Anyway, black parents punish their children more than white parents in all ways. If you're black and you misbehave, you're both more likely to get spanked and more likely to lose your allowance than your white neighbor, who in turn is both more likely to get spanked and more likely to lose his allowance than the Hispanic kid down the street. So on average, poor people spank more and withdraw allowances less, whereas black people spank more and withdraw allowances more. The income pattern fails to match the racial pattern, so the income pattern can't be fully explained by race. 

Whether one agrees with corporal punishment or not, the data show that African American parents are doing their part.  They discipline their children.  This reality begs the question - if African American parents discipline their children, why is it that their children are suspended from school at higher rates than whites?  Why is it that African American children are exposed to the juvenile justice system more readily than their white peers (for fewer crimes, no less)?  Why are the children of Black mothers and fathers more likely to be stopped and frisked? Surely, based on the data, we know it can't be a lack of parental discipline.    But if it is not the fault of the parents, whose fault is it?  Who or what is to blame?

We know the answer.  Institutional racism undermines even the most cautious and careful parenting.  But it's much easier to blame - or even praise - parents than it is to challenge inequitable systems.  Until structural racism is no more, Ms. Graham's son and every other Black child in America will have to confront the ever-present risk of state-sanctioned violence.   

April 30, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)