I Get Toya Graham

Do I think Toya Graham is a hero? No. I think she’s a mom who went completely off her nut when she caught her son throwing rocks at the police in Baltimore. And I get that. I really do. She saw him in a bad place and she was having none of it. She grabbed him by the arm and pulled him down the street, all the while smacking him on the head. In my book, she saved her boy from ending up in jail or worse.

So to have Joan Walsh in a Salon.com article tell us that acknowledgement of Toya Graham’s fury at her son constitutes ‘hideous white hypocrisy’ that ‘excuses police brutality’ is ridiculous in the extreme.  This mom slapping her son while she drags him away from trouble is not the flip side of police brutality. Somebody hasn’t been spending enough time reading autopsy reports to think that what Ms. Graham did is, in any way, comparable to, a precursor of, or a mirror image of the many and varied ways that police departments across the United States have beaten, broken and murdered young Black men.

What should she have done? She could have asked him to come home. We know how responsive teenage boys are to polite requests that they do something they don’t want to do. So he probably would have said no. So then what? She could have called the boy’s dad. I heard a lot of people saying that today. Where was the boy’s dad? Assuming, I guess, that the boy would have a different response to his father’s polite request that he come home. Maybe. So if there wasn’t a dad to call, what should she have done? Pray. That’s it. She should go pray.

That’ll work. She can go organize a prayer chain on Facebook and have all her friends and relatives calling up prayers for her son, you know, to keep him safe and in God’s hands. Which is fine but the truth of the matter is that he is thirty seconds from being in some angry cop’s hands. So prayer, does that sound like a good strategy for Toya Graham?

I think Joan Walsh and the other folks who think what they saw in the film clip was child abuse are precious. Sweet. I want to hold their smooth unwrinkled hands, admire their manicures and covet their lace hankies. And then I want to tell them the sad news that life is harder and rougher than they have been privileged to know. They have been protected from gut reactions and blind instinct because everything in their lives is planned out. They never have to be scared to death that their child is going to get hurt bad right this minute unless they do something drastic.

I get Toya Graham. Do I think she’s the greatest mother who ever lived? I don’t even know what that means. She didn’t hide. I’ll say that much. When her boy was in harm’s way, she went and got him. And she didn’t ask nicely. I’m fine with that. I don’t think we have to put her picture on a stamp but we need to understand that it’s mothers with guts like that who are saving young men from themselves all over this country. They’re the ones who aren’t afraid to be wrong or to be criticized and they owe us no apology.

But her boy, he should say thank you.

14 Comments on “I Get Toya Graham

  1. She certainly got his attention – always a good start.

  2. To me, the “hideous white hypocrisy” is to believe that she was operating out of anger for her son rather than terror that he would be yet another victim of the police.

  3. Love it and pretty sure I would have done the same thing she did. Marched in there and smacked him. Great piece Jan!!

  4. Oh, I love this so much! I’ve seen where it was reported that she gave him a “beating”, and I thought, that’s no beating. The fear for her son was oozing out her pores.

    • It really was … oozing out of her pores. You’re so right. I immediately identified with her. Instantaneous.

  5. I have abused my children in so many ways, most of them related to screaming. And while I didn’t call them names, while the screaming was mostly “I can’t take this any more,” it hurt them. I also had a mean arm grab–that one I learned as a high school teacher caught in the way of a knife. But I used it now and then on my own kids. Let’s see, what else? There were regular slammings on of the brakes on the way to school, with orders (unfollowed) to get out of the car. I was so awful under stress, and with no support, no one to tell ME to take a time out or lift the load a little. I too get her.

    • Oh God. I think we went to the same parenting class. I once had a guy pull up next to me at a stop light when I was in full roar because all three of my kids were jerks at the doctor’s office and say to me, “take it easy, mom.” Intense. Yeah, I get Toya Graham. Believe me.

  6. This is a great piece. When I saw the clip, what I saw was a mother in fear that her son’s bad decision would cause him harm. I saw a mother trying to save her son from a foolish decision. She was protecting him in the only way she knew how. Was it pretty? No, but parenting rarely is.

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