I lived for part of my life in the greater Baltimore area, so the news of the recent riots had me worried for friends that live and work in and around the city. I don't really want to write a post about it, honestly, because I said some things on Facebook already, but something has been bugging me in particular.
That "Mom of the Year" viral video. That -- or rather, the reactions to it -- has bothered me more than almost anything else to come out of the social media shitstorm the riots caused.
I'm not linking to the video. You can find it yourself, if you haven't already seen it. The video shows an African American woman who, finding her son among the rioters, assaulted him in order to get him off the streets. If you look it up, you can see her screaming at him, hitting him, tugging at the mask he was wearing, and cussing him out as she yells at him to get home.
This video was picked up and retweeted by someone who dubbed her "Mom of the Year."
And, suddenly, everyone was assigning motives to this anonymous woman. They assumed she wanted her son home because she disagreed with the riots. They thought she engaged this violent assault on her son because he was rioting, and she thought the rioting was wrong. Every article I read focused on what the kid was wearing, as if to say that he deserved it because he looked like a thug.
And it didn't stop there. Because suddenly, it was like someone had given permission for all my white facebook friends to vent their fantasies about beating the shit out of some black youth.
"Maybe if he'd had some more of that at home when he was younger, he wouldn't be out rioting now!"
"That would be me. Except, I don't look as good in yellow."
"If I saw MY kid out dressed like that..."
"If these people disciplined their kids better, they wouldn't act like thugs."
...And some comments I won't repeat about how they wished THEY could go out there and give some of those kids the same treatment the woman had given her son.
People were assigning the mother of this kid their own motives, and using her example as a proxy -- as permission -- to condone violence against black youth. It fit into a narrative they already understood, where black-on-black violence is accepted as normal, where the sassy black mom is a comforting stereotype, where youth vs. adults is the real problem and not systemic injustice, and where they could take an anonymous woman's actions and assign them motives that aligned with their own.
People who hadn't initially condemned the riots or participated in the first spew of racist and angry comments were suddenly coming out of the woodwork to endorse, applaud, and encourage this violence -- because it suited them. Because they could pretend to make it about parenting values or whatever. It was like, "this woman assaulted her kid; suddenly it's OK for me to talk about how I want to beat on some black kids." These were some the same people who were posting MLK statuses and saying things like "I don't condone this violence!" earlier.
No. You don't get to do that. You don't get to condemn violence when it's inconvenient and applaud it when it benefits you.
And you especially don't get to appropriate someone else's story like that.
I was over here behind my computer screen thinking, hey, maybe she is flying off the handle like that because she wants her kid home safe. I interpreted her level of violence as coming from fear more than anger. Because most moms, I think, wouldn't go to that extreme unless they thought the kid was in danger. But most people assumed her actions came from the same place of anger and hate for the rioters as THEIR feelings.
Of course, what would I know? Maybe she DID disagree. What pissed me off was how unanimous every single goddamn status, post, article, and comment was in their assumptions about her motives. They were DETERMINED to spin it as "she is doing this to PUNISH" instead of "she may be doing this to PROTECT."
Because in their minds, the angry youth in the streets of Baltimore needed to be punished, not protected.
In the minds of white America, African Americans who make a stir about racially based injustices need to be punished, not protected. In the minds of white America, the police are out to punish blacks and protect whites. Obviously, I'm generalizing very widely here. But it was depressing how smoothly some people -- way more people than I expected; people who I otherwise respected and liked and who I thought would think more deeply before sharing and applauding something like that so casually -- fit one viral video into their existing prejudiced worldview.
The mom was eventually identified and interviewed, and said that she acted as she did because she didn't want her kid to become "another Freddie Gray." Make of that what you will.
I'm not going to pretend to judge the mom and kid. But, everyone who clamored to call her Mom of the Year and responded to the video with a weird, vicious glee? Yeah, I'm totally judging you. A lot. People like to try to simplify this whole Baltimore fiasco into "Cops are good vs. Cops are Bad" and "Riots are OK vs. Riots are Bad" and "Racism vs. Not Racism" arguments. I won't say anything about that. But here was a quantifiable, observable reaction. And it was awful. I mean, FOR FUCK'S SAKE. If your Moral of the Story here is "Let's all go home and beat our kids so they don't riot!" then you're an asshole.