I first read her name in the comment section of another post on this space and decided to google a search. I came across an article on The Guardian, dealing with the attacks that are being aimed at this brave mother.
But Horton, who was 34, was neither white nor blonde nor particularly photogenic: the first published picture of her was a blurry shot where large sunglasses obscured most of her smiling face. Nor did she have the kind of squeaky-clean narrative that fits easily into the feel-good story mould. She was poor, unmarried and the mother of 13; she lived in Brownsville, one of Brooklyn’s most notorious neighbourhoods. And she was black. On Monday, police charged three youths with the shooting.
Instead of being heralded for her bravery, Horton’s life is currently being held up for scrutiny and debate in the blogosphere. A typical post – Laurence Scott, a commenter on Global Grind, writes: “13 kids and pregnant and living in public housing. WOW. Rome is burning.” Meanwhile, on the New York Daily News site, commenters attack her – and each other – with ferocity. “I wonder how much of my tax money, both NY and federal, is going to go to supporting those 13 kids for the next several decades,” writes one commenter. “Hero? She would have been a hero if she had stopped at 2, at least to the rest of society that now has to pay for their welfare, education, Medicaid, food stamps.”
On The Root, an African-American website published by the Washington Post (full disclosure: I am the site’s senior editor), some took the “blame the victim” route. Writes WandaDoesIt: “Where it is OK for unmarred [sic] women to have 13 fatherless children can pretty much expect to have boys and young men shooting up the place … It is so tragic, but we can’t disconnect how she died from how she lived.” Then there’s BLKSeaGoat, who writes: “Her death was sad and the act heroic, but given the demographics of the neighborhood, coupled with the fact that she was working on her 13th [sic] child, can anyone honestly belive [sic] that this outcome wasn’t to be expected?” (source)
Even after writing a great article regarding why the treatment of Horton is based in racism, many of the commenters at The Guardian simply could not see the classism as well as racism inherent in the negative responses.
Quivering families routinely produce large families, but because of families like the Duggars, who star in TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting, there is a belief that these families are economically wealthy. The truth of the matter is that the Duggars are the exception rather than the rule, and yet there is no public outcry that these children are largely growing in poverty because they are White. If economics were really the issue, then quivering families would be a target for public derision. They may not be accepting money from the government, but that does not mean that growing in poverty does not have an adverse effect on the children involved.
What does a poor Black mother have to do to gain respect. This woman literally laid down her life and died for others, yet the conversation is focused on the number of children that she had, and the fact that she was living on social assistance. Supposedly, these facts relate something negative about her as a person. They don’t know how much time she invested on her children, what sacrifices she made for them, or how loved her children felt, for many — social assistance plus a large Black family means negative.
The truth of the matter is that society is extremely adverse to investing any money on the welfare of Black children. If that were not the case, they would not be routinely undereducated. Black mothers are demonized specifically because our bodies and our lives nurture Black children. We are the undesirable surplus population. It may make people more comfortable to divorce race from this, but as long as we live in a White supremacist world, racism will always have to factor into any case involving people of color. If a Black mother dying to protect children isn’t worthy of being labelled a hero, then who is? Perhaps if she had sacrificed herself for the benefit of White children, a role that many still expect from Black women, then people could see the heroism of her actions.