During the Morning Joe show on April 28th with featured guest Al Sharpton I was taken aback by Joe Scarborough's jubilee and enthusiastic response to a video of a mother beating her child upside the head and cussing him out during a protest in Baltimore.
Joe Scarborough, calls her a "good, strong mother" and Al Sharpton co-signs this sentiment. The short video does not indicate why she was beating him nor does it confirm that he was engaged in any violent behavior. The Baltimore police commissioner praised this women, which is not surprising as he will accept any help in getting people off of the streets as they galvanize to protest in response to the death of Freddie Gray.
However, the narrative around this video in which this woman is being called the "Mom of the Year" wreaks of the contradictions that lace American cultural logic. We have a violent justice system that goes unchecked. Law enforcement often violently condemns protesters who take to the streets whether they are peaceful or not and yet, this act of violence this mother bestows upon her child is praised.
I want to be clear that my focus is less on how to parent in this case and more on how the media is constructing a particular narrative in packaging this video that I have rarely witnessed. We need to consider the prism of external and internal forces that contextualize how protestors of color are presented in the media, the positioning of what type of violence is deemed okay in America and how that feeds into the persistence of what is the right way and wrong way to be violent, as deemed by the influencers in mainstream media.
One year ago, Black culture and physical discipline was a hot topic, in which many scholars made connections between slavery and the use of corporal punishment in Black households. The discourse was racialized and much research supported the notion that White parents are less likely to beat or spank their children. Many outspoken and successful people of color have condoned beatings when necessary. Adrian Peterson's case left a hailstorm of controversy around what is and is not appropriate when disciplining a child.
In an article on The Grio by David Love he states, "We must challenge societal norms concerning definitions of manhood, and black manhood, and the notion that one must use physical violence against others as a means of controlling them." I agree with this sentiment, thus what is troubling about this segment on Morning Joe and a host of other media outlets that have since praised this public display of violence against a child, is that this violence against black boys by parents is condoned and applauded at a time when we are fighting for law enforcement to stop being violent towards black children. Yet, prominent people have a voice that tells us when violence is right or wrong, regardless of the fact that we have so little information surrounding what this young boy was doing and why his mothers was physically disciplining him in the first place.
Michael Eric Dyson puts into context the connection between police brutality and corporal punishment, when he states in a New York Times piece that,
The lash of the plantation overseer fell heavily on children to whip them into fear of white authority. Terror in the field often gave way to parents beating black children in the shack, or at times in the presence of the slave owner in forced cooperation to break a rebellious child's spirit. Black parents beat their children to keep them from misbehaving in the eyes of whites who had the power to send black youth to their deaths for the slightest offense. Today, many black parents fear that a loose tongue or flash of temper could get their child killed by a trigger-happy cop. They would rather beat their offspring than bury them.
This contextual analysis that Michael Eric Dyson and David Love provide cannot be more relevant today as we witness the response in Baltimore to the death of Freddie Gray. In particular, as we see the video of a black mother physically and verbally discipline her child go viral, we must ask critical questions around, why black female violence against others is often encouraged, why this violence is deemed okay by mainstream media and influencers and how this public act by a mother factors into the overall conversation around police brutality, America's culture of violence and the American cultural logic that moves us to praise this mother.
It is plausible to assume that the intersection of police brutality against black males and the terror of her son being harmed by law enforcement spurred her need to force cooperation to break this "rebellious child's spirit" by exhibiting violence towards him, as Dyson points out. However, the video does not give us any reason to believe this child was acting in a violently rebellious manner yet; the story is being constructed based upon a set of assumptions in order to create a narrative around black parenting and young people protesting. The problem with this is the notion that young people, whether protesting peacefully or not, need to be disciplined by their parents for the mere fact that they are challenging the system that continues to demonstrate violence against them.
Media commentators have never explicitly condoned corporal punishment and public verbal assault of a child. Black people and by extension black culture, has in fact been vilified by the historical link between slavery, corporal punishment and parenting. Dane County District Attorney, Ismael Ozanne, launched an initiative aimed at diverting from the traditional criminal justice system certain minority defendants charged with child abuse if they use corporal punishment as a "culturally acceptable form of discipline." Yet, this standing ovation that the media and law enforcement is showering upon this parent is troubling considering the Black community's use of beating their children within the home and laws that criminalize a disproportionate number of black parents for that very same behavior. Yet, in this case that behavior is celebrated. Therefore, the construction of this narrative around a parent beating her son needs to be questioned within the larger context of what the media is actually saying about Black parenting, protestors and this movement. For example, MSNBC host, Joe Scarborough says that its not the community or the mayor that can fix things, but it starts with parents, and this video acts as the jumping point for this conversation around the notion that the parents have failed, not the inequitable system in which we live. This diversion is quite sickening as we consider all the great parenting in the world is not going to prevent police officers from killing black men. Good parenting and being an upstanding citizen did not save Walter Scott, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray or any other number of innocent black males who have been and will be unjustly killed by law enforcement.
The symbolic link between this act of discipline being a representation of "doing what any good, strong mother would do" has to be understood in juxtaposition with the cultural construction of vilifying the Black Lives Matter movement. Though the beating that Adrian Peterson administered to his child was reportedly more severe than what this mother publicly administered to her son, in the case of a black parent spanking and cussing out her child, media commentators, especially white media commentators, have never applauded such behavior. However, in this case they are. The subtext here is that if kids are not peacefully protesting it is ok for parents to use violence against them and it is viewed as "passionate discipline." The "Mom of the Year" crown that has been bestowed upon this parent is the subtext that if black people were parenting their children right, black boys would not be out in the street protesting. However, if unarmed black people were not being killed at an alarming rate, black people would not be in the street protesting.