Stacey Patton, a reporter, professor and author, wrote a Washington Post column today entitled “Why is America celebrating the beating of a black child?” This is in reference to Toya Graham, the mother in Baltimore who grabbed her son, by the collar, out of a riot and proceeded to yell at him and slap him topside of his head as she pushed him away from the scene. One important note about Patton’s column: Although she might not disagree with the spirit of the headline, it is likely she didn’t write it.
Patton’s words are just another illustration of why we are still having issues with race relations in 2015 America. It seems we rush to make something that is complex, pardon the pun, something that is black and white.
Ms. Patton refers to Toya Graham’s action as beating her son. These are inflammatory words and not true. Yes, there was physicality in Graham’s actions. But grabbing the back of a collar and slapping the top of a head a few times is not a beating. This was not causing physical harm on the young man. It was a statement, verbal and non-verbal, by a mother that her son’s actions were unacceptable. To me, in part, this is the role of a parent.
But Stacey Patton brought up an excellent point when she asked why weren’t parents of peaceful protesters highlighted as well. Part of the answer is an obsession by the media, and seemingly all of America, with all things video. This is why we many times see stories with dramatic video and little significance consistently make it to local and national newscasts. (So much for journalism, but that’s a topic for another day.) But the more telling part of the answer to Patton’s question is that we are too many times restricted to our world. We may not have any malice toward any group, but we find it difficult to transcend our biases and stereotyping. We should know better. But emotion can easily win out over the rational.