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The day after a videotape of Toya Graham beating her 16-year-old son went viral– inspiring headlines, tweets and calls for her to be named mother-of-the-year– the Baltimore mom sat down with CBS’s Gayle King who asked, “Do you feel like a hero mom this morning?

toya graham

To her credit, Graham, who took matters into her own hands after identifying her child among a group of teenagers vandalizing and looting property during a riot sparked by the arrest and unexplained death of Freddie Gray, replied without equivocation, “I don’t.

In fact, Graham was furious with her son for defying her orders to go to school that day, stay out of trouble and do his level best from becoming “the next Freddie Gray,” as she later put it.


Parents losing their tempers when children go astray is nothing new. But after witnessing Graham’s no holds barred attack on her boy– which the single mother of six has acknowledged was not unprecedented–  I could not reconcile the carnivalesque tone that sprang from what amounted to an assault on a young man’s dignity in broad daylight.

Would the New York Post have been as keen to make light of the situation had the recipient of Graham’s fury been a girl? How would we have responded had a father disciplined his son in the same manner? Would the scene have elicited as many giggles had a dad unleashed a hail of punches on his daughter? (If the latter made you flinch, what does it say about our culture that the idea of men hitting girls is any more offensive than women hitting boys?) Have we become so desensitized to the visual of black males being brutalized at the hands of rogue police officers, that we can’t distinguish right from wrong at the hands of those who are sworn to protect and serve us by a higher power?

Based on the Facebook feed that was generated when a friend posted a picture of Graham in attack mode with a caption that read: “That awkward moment when momma embarrasses you in front of the entire nation cause you’re throwing rocks at the police,” the answer was made abundantly clear.

  • Todd Moye Gee, I wonder where that kid learned to act violently.
  • Alison Gibson She’s doing what responsible parents should do when their children act like this. Notice, he wasn’t surprised she swung on him. She’s trying to teach him to be responsible and not follow what these other idiots are doing. I bet he won’t throw another rock at anybody.
  • Gail O’Neill I’m with Todd. While I applaud the mother’s goal, her parenting game leaves much to be desired.
  • Shaka Lias Cobb She got my vote! Mama of the year
  • Alison Gibson Well, would you rather have the police beat him? She did EVERYTHING a good parent should do when her child has gone against his mother’s wishes.
  • Sesalee Woods Why is it that when children misbehave we forget that we too disobeyed as children and were raised by productive, intelligent, tax paying and sometimes God fearing parents? Did the corrective measures we earned from said disobedience cause this selective amnesia with symptoms of tsk-tsking, condemnation, and pomposity? I’m intrigued. 😅😅😅😅
  • Alison Gibson Sesalee Woods, the “corrective measures” I received as a child have helped me become the law abiding citizen I am today. Again, I see nothing wrong with what the mother did.
  • Shaka Lias Cobb Had he been hurt or killed down there throwing rocks and cops and whatever else he was doing then people would be asking. Where was his mama?
    Well she made sure that didn’t happen it.
    What was she suppose to do? Approach him
    And request nicely that he come home? That was not a nice situation he was in or that he put her in so her behavior is warranted.
  • Sesalee Woods Nor do I Alison Gibson. I just can’t get with folks who judge the parents and charge them with not doing a good job or somehow failing because the kid misbehaves. It happens with the best parents.
  • Alison Gibson It’s like parents are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. We can’t have it both ways. We know the difference between abuse and discipline. Trust and believe, she probably talked to her son about his behavior on SEVERAL occasions but he tried to test his mom. He didn’t think she’d know he was down there clowning and acting a fool. She showed him. She needs to make him go help the groups trying to clean up after these fools who destroyed things. That would be my punishment for him.
  • Jared A. Ditaway Mines would have done the same thing!!! Good for her!!!
    22 hrs · Like · 2
  • Gregory Moore Who are we to judge her skills as a parent???

Beat his ass for embarrassing the family; since he doesn’t have the common sense if not destroying property.

Good for her

10 hrs · Like · 2

As the lines between discipline and abuse blur, I vividly recall the collective outrage when Alec Baldwin lost his cool in a voicemail to his then 11-year-old daughter, Ireland, eight years ago.

Appropriately, nobody attempted to defend Baldwin or lionize him for keeping his kid in check by any means necessary. Implicit in most discussions was the fundamental agreement that as challenging as parenting can be, an adult’s response to a child’s provocation needn’t be an either/or proposition. No one argued that the ends justified the means, or that Ireland should be put in her place lest she go astray. And no one suggested that bullying voicemails might cement Baldwin’s place in the hall of fame for well-intentioned dads.

So why the double-standard for Graham?

He be say you be colonial man

You don be slave man before

Them don release you now

But you never release yourself

~Fela Kuti, “Colonial Mentality”

Just as #blacklivesmatter struck a chord on social media and forced us all to rethink old assumptions, I’d like to see #dignitymatters (don’t look for it anywhere else because I just made it up) gain traction and alter perceptions. I’d like us to reflect on how the legacies of slavery, lynchings and unchecked police brutality have turned crimes against humanity into spectator sport. And I’d like for parents to move away from tired, old tropes like “my mother beat me, and I turned out fine,” when self-awareness may well be the first casualty of physical abuse.

In the meantime, as public humiliation trails Toya Graham’s boy into manhood, I wonder if his shame will harden into antipathy for women. I wonder if he’ll choose to negotiate peace and resolve conflicts with words or brute strength when dealing with woman, children and authority figures going forward. I wonder if reason can resonate with the man if the child has been trained to respond to violence. And I wonder if, should he be blessed with children one day, it will occur to him that appealing to a child’s conscience and intellect can be even more effective than a beating.