Searching for the Black Ghandi with Nicholas Kristof

Posted on May 1, 2015


635658073044214534-riot-momSeveral crucial media and social media moments converged in the past week of the Baltimore Uprising that illuminate the American establishment’s obsession with worthy victims of color. The viral “Riot Mom”  clip produced dozens of headlines to quench the thirst of racist palettes already whetted with stereotypes of fatherless, wilding black teens. The memes and commentary became the corollary to Rand Paul’s dog-whistling about absent African-American fathers.

Here was a robust, britches-adjusting, face-whacking, disciplinarian black mammy of white fantasy that would finally tame Black male savagery and defeat the the Black race-fixation responsible for racism. The white delusion that vigorous Black parental guidance, imagined to be absent by establishment-worshipping white people, will fix police abuses and generational impoverishment is one of the strongest columns of white supremacy in the US. Thus, the white mainstream and media couldn’t get enough of the image of the Black mother roughing up her slim, Black son.

Or that was at least true for Nicholas Kristof. His vacuous–and by any estimation–amateurishly argued column yesterday, gushes about the video as the primary answer to “liberal” [and of course, Black] defenses for the Baltimore uprising.

bravo to Toya Graham, the Baltimore mom captured on video grabbing her teenage son from the streets and frog-marching him home. The boy wilted: It must be humiliating to be a “badass” rioter one moment and then to be savagely scolded in front of your peers and sent to your room.

Kristof, who has made a career of bemoaning the inability of oppressed people—especially Palestinians–to find their Gandhi, rejoiced that Black people perhaps had finally found theirs. And not just one, but several! There was Obama and a basketball player and some others. They all came to Kristof’s attention because they looked at an uprising in one of the most iconic metropolitan examples of Black destitution and saw only Black people that needed scolding. Graham could safely vouchsafe the secret racism that hides behind Kristof’s mealy-mouthed appeals to authority in the name of humanitarianism—his desire to see “badass” men of color who fight their oppressors, humbled by same-race agents of the oppressor.

Of course, even Kristof admits that despite his boner for the viral domestic violence, the story was somewhat more complex. As Graham later recounted, the reason she became so emotional was her concern for keeping her Black son safe from police. Inscrutably, Kristof ignores this particular reality, despite the fact that it invalidates everything he’d just written about how important it was for her to humble her son in public.

Graham’s concern was concretized later in the week, when the star of another iconic photo—Allan Bullock, the teen shattering a window with a traffic cone—turned himself in at the behest of his step-father, Maurice Hawkins, who feared that police might seriously injure him if they apprehended him.  Hawkins also wanted his son to be a man and follow the rules. But doing the right thing, being the good, disciplining Black parent that Kristof celebrates, got Hawkins’ step-son a half-million dollar bail and serious charges which could mean nearly a decade in jail. Indeed, the same is true for about another hundred people still caught up in the system and facing serious charges in an already dubious legal system made worse by Maryland’s recent turn to martial law in response to the uprising.

Of course, those who make the mistake of following Kristof’s rules and waiting on “Black Leaders” who show zero interest in aiding anything but their own ambitions for power, consistently find themselves with nothing to show for it–or worse, as in Bullock’s case, at the mercy of the state.  As in Kristof’s never-ending search for the Palestinian Gandhi, the Black Gandhi construction posits not only humble acceptance of generational oppression, but actual enabling and participation in it as a collaborator. Kristof’s American bastardization of “Gandhism” is not about the non-violent movement that produced some substantive results for South Asians at all.  That’s why, try as you might, you can’t actually find anything in Kristof’s column today that seems like a viable way forward for Black people in the United States. That’s not the point of the American, or Kristof’s, Gandhi fetish, of course, as Palestinians have known for decades.

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