When a child misbehaves the parents should be held accountable for not instilling proper values and home training in their offspring. But, what if the child's parents are themselves children? Moreover, what if the parent's parent was also a child when they birthed him or her?
Part of that answer is seen in the interview with the 16-year-old parent of the "ghetto thug baby" whose cussing, picaninny routine--which I discussed here--was shared on national television by CNN last week.
Once more I yearn for a return to shame as a social force with power and meaning in American life.
If my street pirate in training child was featured on a national news program, and subsequently viewed by millions of people online, I would go hide under a rock because the shame would be both oppressive and omnipresent. But if one does not know any better, how can we expect the ghetto thug baby's mama to do any better?
The performance of black ghetto hooliganism and thuggery for mass consumption is a genre of entertainment in the United States. It is a spectacle that drives Internet memes and also makes hundreds of millions (if not billions of dollars) for large global corporations. I have no interest in contributing to the pleasures brought to some people, across the colorline, by mocking a human zoo (one which is typified by the poor decision-making skills and social disorganization common to the American "ghetto underclass").
The white supremacist website Worldstar Hip Hop has enough copycats and supporters. They do not need my help. Simultaneously, the politics of black respectability to which I am committed demand that I not compromise my commitment to truth-telling and efforts to locate such episodes of ghetto underclass spectacle within a larger social and political context. Yes, I walk a fine line. I may falter; I may fall in a less than graceful pose; I will still keep trying.
The spectacle of the ghetto thug baby, and now his mother's efforts to vindicate herself, is important because of the human tragedy it represents.
Some may call my use of the phrase "human tragedy" hyperbolic and exaggerated. I disagree. Based on the violence, criminal behavior, and poor decision-making of the "adults" in his life, I worry that the long-term social outcomes and life chances for the "ghetto thug baby" are slim and poor. We the people will be left to sort out the mess.
The ghetto thug baby's culture is no help to him overcoming the limited life chances that being black and poor bring in America.
Culture is all of those things that a given person takes for granted about social norms. Culture is "natural"; culture is rarely thought about except in those moments when it is transgressed.
Her culture taught the mother of the ghetto thug baby that good parenting consists of giving a child clean diapers and a clean house. What ought to be a bare minimum standard of care becomes something to be praised as exemplary. She is unable to understand how the race minstrel picanniny show that was her "precocious" child's video debut is shameful. Her local (sub)culture does not allow for such reasoning. These are the same cultural rules which justify stealing from someone because they left their purse or wallet out on the table unprotected. The phrase "they were asking to get robbed" is made into the moral justification for theft.
We must be precise. The same logic is common to the plutocrats and robber barons too, the "wolves of Wall Street" and Mitt Romneys of the world operate from the same playbook as they eviscerate whole communities and rob them of wealth and resources. Their explanation? If "those people" were smart enough it wouldn't have happened to them. It is after all a dog eat dog world. The ghetto street pirate and the robber baron plutocrat are both thugs. The difference? One is valorized. The other is put in jail.
The video of the ghetto thug baby, and now his mother's defense of her failed parenting, fulfill the white racist fantasies of degenerate blackness. The image of the ghetto thug baby and his mother are also central to the Republican Party's "Southern Strategy" and its accompanying belief in the Age of Obama that poor people of color are "useless eaters".
Paraphrasing from the book of the same title, Americans hate welfare for a reason.
Images of fecund black women with badly behaving children who embody, quite literally, "bad culture", and are then "saved" multiple times by the state, i.e. the taxpayer, are a cultural script that has done ugly and pernicious political work in the United States for decades. Despite its bold title, the United States did not fight a real, long-term, and effective "War on Poverty". Yes, there were opening feints and skirmishes. But, the war was ultimately sabotaged and undone by the politics of white racial resentment.
At present, Republicans like Paul Ryan and other agents of neoliberalism and Austerity are dishonestly rewriting the history of the United States' anti-poverty programs in order to advance a twisted logic and set of policies that will actually make poverty, as well as wealth and income inequality, worse.
I worry that the images of the ghetto thug baby and his clueless mother are ready made images for a campaign to further destroy the social safety net. By not self-policing, the black and brown poor hurt themselves. Realpolitik does not obey slogans and platitudes such as "don't blame the victim". The real world is far more cruel and unfair.
Is it possible to (re)instill the politics of black respectability into those individuals who were not taught its lessons at an early age? And by doing so, to at least minimize the self-inflicted harm that folks such as the ghetto thug baby's mother (and her enablers) cause themselves?