I had to go back to the drawing board on this situation. My initial instinct was to have a WTF reaction – not at The Boondocks’ spoof of the Latarian Milton – but at the boy himself. After all how many 7-year old children have the absolute nerve to steal grandma’s car and go on an under-age driving rampage AND not be publicly reprimanded by somebody? Not many.
But I realized that within my reaction came a criticism – about my people, this child, and ultimately myself as a parent. Too often I find Black folks blasted in the media for ignorant behavior, and instead of pointing another finger, I want to understand why THIS boy is getting so much face time. Is it because a 7-year old stealing a car is truly something out of this world? Or does Latarian represent something greater? Instead of using Latarian as an example of why and where we must improve as a people, let’s ask ourselves what is it about this boy that makes him commodifiable. After all, if he’s getting face time on TV, he’s getting paid. To dissect this, I must reorient how you view his video footage, so here goes.
First, here is the real news story that introduced us to Latarian Milton in April of 2008:
The first thing that struck me about this video is Latarian’s honesty. From this brief interview we learn there is an issue with mom, grandma is raising him, and there is no mention of Latarian’s father. Keep all of these factors in mind and keep watching.
Two weeks later:
How did the news find out about this? Did Walmart call the police or is the media stalking Latarian Milton?
Here is another interview with Latarian in June of 2008. Notice his tone and body language, and really listen to what the cop says at the end:
By now Laterian is tired of explaining why he took grandma’s car. It’s such an obvious cry for attention that it doesn’t warrant repeating. Notice how the reporter plays up Latarian’s disregard for the people who he could have hurt that day and how that leads into the cops’ admission of pressing charges to “get him into the system” because “obviously this is unusual behavior for a 7-year old” and little Latarian needs to be evaluated and treated. I’m wondering, what is Latarian’s fate if at 7 he already has a record and is being labeled as a danger to society?
Flash-forward to an interview done two months later:
Now, Latarian stays in the news, but this time it’s because he’s about to make his Hollywood debut. Are Judge Judy’s ratings that low these days? Notice how the reporter mentions the show’s producers encouraging grandma, Latarian, and the phantom mom to participate. How much of that encouragement do you think came with pictures of dead presidents on it? But again, what is the point of all this? Why? To help Latarian “get a new life, and move on” as he desires? I’m frustrated with grandma because she let those dollar signs speak to her – her smile says it all.
This year, Latarian was launched onto Comedy Central. (Couldn’t embed the link thanks to copyright, but PLEASE click on Comedy Central!)
I’m all in for a good laugh, but really what is the point of this 7-year old boy teaching this grown white man how to do hoodrat stuff? What does that even mean? And when Latarian really does grow up and tries to make a name for himself, will he be able to come out from under the “hoodrat” umbrella? Or do we already believe and accept that this child is not capable of being anything other than just that?
Thankfully Aaron McGruder and the Boondocks team saw something in Latarian, and more importantly in the media representation of Latarian, worth commenting on:
I can get behind what I believe McGruder’s intent is here. It’s pretty ludicrous to mislabel a child as a sociopath when the child is clearly begging for attention, but by doing so you write the child’s future for them. Through one really awful and childish mistake, Latarian spent his 15 minutes as the “hoodrat” representative. His real mistake – stealing the car – seems so small in comparison to him teaching Tosh.0 how to really be a hoodrat two years later. And as for grandma participating in that sketch? No disrespect to the elder, but she could take a lesson from Boondocks’ Grandpa and not spare the rod.