In the last few weeks, the internet has split into two extremes of how it treats mothers who attain national attention. Candace Payne, otherwise known as Chewbacca Mom, now holds the distinction of having the most-watched Facebook video, with more than 3 million shares and counting, after she posted a video of herself wearing a Chewbacca mask and laughing uncontrollably. Payne’s family has gone on to receive thousands in gifts. Mark Zuckerberg had her over to the Facebook headquarters for a private tour. Ellen DeGeneres had her on the show, as did James Corden and Good Morning America.
And now Hasbro has even rolled out a Chewbacca Mom action figure, made in Payne’s image.
Clearly Internet fame is rewarded heavily, especially when a specific product is promoted, like Damn, Daniel and his white Vans shoes. Recently Time reported that Payne’s family has received almost half a million in gifts, swag, trips to Disney World and even scholarships for her entire family to attend Southeastern University in Florida.
SEU, a small, private Christian college, announced the gift on its website, noting that Payne has “taken the opportunity to share her Christian faith and her desire that the attention and fame she is receiving will be used to share God’s love with others.” Time estimated the scholarship to be worth about $400,000.
Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, more than 500,000 signatures were collected in support of having Child Protective Services and the local police department remove children from a mother’s custody after her little boy slipped out of her grasp at a zoo.
The contrast plays into how America rewards, supports, glorifies and lifts up white mediocracy and vilifies people of color and people in poverty. Though it’s wonderful that Payne’s family, who had the means for her to be a stay-at-home mom, has half a million dollars less of financial stress, other mothers who received national attention, in obvious need of the same, have gotten very little or nothing at all.
In June of 2014, Debra Harrell, an African-American mother, was arrested, thrown in jail for 17 days and lost temporary custody of her 9-year-old daughter after leaving her at a nearby park with a cellphone. Harrell could not afford to pay for child care while she worked as a shift manager at McDonald’s. Her daughter was home because of summer vacation, and Harrell let the girl sit in the restaurant with a laptop, but after that was stolen, she let her go to a nearby park where volunteers brought free lunch and snacks. A website raised funds for the family in the form of a college trust fund for the young girl, but at less than a tenth of what the Paynes received.
Last July, another African-American mom was arrested for neglect when her children sat at a table alone while she sat nearby for a job interview. Laura Browder sat her children, aged 6 and 2, at a nearby table in a Houston Mall’s food court while she interviewed for a job. Browder said she was 30 feet away from her children, and they were continuously in plain sight, but she was handcuffed immediately after she accepted the new job. A judge dropped the charges, chalking it up to a lapse in judgment. Child Protective Services said at the time that maybe they could help her find child care resources. Needless to say, no one has invited her to their corporate headquarters or handed out scholarships to her kids.
None of this is to say that the Payne family is undeserving. Payne herself has met each of these gifts with her characteristic excitement in enjoying the small things, even when they are really, really big.
But it still raises the question — as a country, why don’t we show the same outpouring of support to the people who are in obvious need? Imagine Ellen having Debra or Laura on her show to offer them essentials like a vehicle, clothing, food or scholarships for day care? Why didn’t Debra, a shift manager at McDonald’s, also get money for college?
It’s time we support and lift up the families who are in obvious need as much as we shower with gifts the ones who entertain us.
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