In The Wake Of Tragedy, Black Parents Face A Racist Double Standard

Yesterday, Twitter was all abuzz after a white queer woman made a statement that many would consider horrific; it was even called the “Worst Tweet Ever” by WIRED magazine.


Undoubtedly, the tweet was highly insensitive. But as any woman or person of color knows, it was definitely not the worst ever.

In fact, when children die, people often make highly offensive and insensitive comments about their parents on social media. So why haven’t their comments been deemed the worst of all time? Because their vitriol has been largely directed at Black parents.

Just a few weeks ago, when a 3-year-old boy fell into the enclosure of a gorilla, a petition demanding that police investigate the Black mother gained 300,00 signatures, and several people made horrific statements about the incident on social media. Like this:


Or this one, which managed to attack two Black mothers with one meme:


In fact, several Twitter users insisted the mother or the little boy should have been shot instead of the gorilla. Tweets like this one are a dime a dozen:


You’d think the Twitter hate would be the worst kind given the anonymous nature of users, but on Facebook, people made even worse comments. “They shot the wrong animal,” one woman said. Three people liked her reply.


“Gorilla mom” Michelle Gregg wasn’t the only one who took heat for the zoo accident. The boy’s father, who wasn’t even at the zoo when the boy fell in, had his criminal history posted online.

Vitriol against Black parents is so pervasive, that they even face it when their child is violently killed. When police shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014 because he was playing in a park with a toy gun, for example, his mother, Samaria Rice, was criticized incessantly. Last month, Samaria was a keynote speaker at Kent State, where four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard in 1970. She called for unity across the nation to end the senseless killing of unarmed Americans — but that didn’t stop keyboard gangsters from criticizing her parenting.


Shortly after Tamir’s death, a user took to Facebook to not only question whether Samaria was actually grieving, but to imply that when Tamir was shot, she was off robbing a store with a real gun.


Lezley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, who was shot dead after stealing cigarillos from a convenience store, has faced similar vitriol. When she wrote a book after the tragedy, she was accused in the Amazon reviews of profiting off of her son’s death. In fact, the reviews rated “most helpful” for McSpadden’s book are ones that allege she didn’t care about her son at all. “Her ‘son’ has been nothing but a paycheck for her from day one,” one reviewer says. Another says, “The only truth here is that Mike Brown was a violent criminal, and he got what he deserved.”

Compare the treatment of McSpadden to the treatment of Sue Klebold, the white mother of one of the Columbine shooting killers who also wrote a book, and the racist double standard becomes particularly apparent. You have to dig to find anything truly negative about Klebold’s words; the reviewers overwhelmingly feel sympathy for her, and the worst she receives is admonishment for being in denial about the signs that her son was a killer, or that her book was too “me-focused.” The “most helpful” Amazon reviews for Klebold’s book include, “I put up Five Stars because of the candor, humility and deep-sorrow that is clearly evident and expressed in this harrowing account by the mother of one of the shooters,” and, “Heartbreaking. The struggle you have endured Mrs. Klebold is felt in every word.”

Never mind that Mike Brown is dead because he was killed, and that Dylan Klebold died by his own hand after killing a dozen students, a teacher, and wounding 24 more; to the American public, Brown’s mother sealed his fate with her reprehensible parenting, while Klebold’s mom was the sympathetic victim of a terrible tragedy that could’ve happened to anyone.

This isn’t to say, of course, that all mothers who’ve lost their children tragically should be blamed and ostracized for their inability to raise “well-behaved” children. Motherhood should be the one thing that unites us as a species, and we as mothers should sympathize with another mother’s pain. The problem is that Black mothers aren’t included in this vision of motherhood.

In America, white parents are allowed to make mistakes. They are human. They are forgiven for looking away from their children, ever so briefly. Their children can make mistakes in public without being shot for it.

Black mothers, on the other hand, are presumed to be absent and negligent, and expected to be perfect. Any mistake can be met with deadly force — and the world will say we deserved it.

In the aftermath of tragedy, where white parents and children are entitled to sadness and public mourning, Black parents aren’t given time to get over the shock of their child’s death or injuries before an internet mob readies their pitchforks and calls them inattentive, criminal, or absent, and their child a thug.

Imagine if the response to the gator attack echoed that of the gorilla attack; if people called for more white kids to be fed to the gators, or for the dad to be prosecuted or eaten by an animal. Imagine if the family was told they got what they deserved.

The outcry would be deafening. Instead, the only outrage we’ve seen is directed at someone who didn’t show sympathy to a white child.

Compassion is not in short supply; it’s simply reserved for white children and their parents.


Lead image: flickr/a2gemma

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