16 September 2014

On Spanking, Pathologizing White Violence and Using Common Sense

In the wake of the Adrian Peterson child abuse case, the Twitteratti and the Facebook "politicians" have begun an extensive debate around the idea of what's just a "whooping" and what exactly is child abuse. As a Black American, the idea of a whooping does not shock nor horrify me. I was on the receiving end of a few in my youth and I remember the horrified looks on my White classmates faces when my Black friends and I would sit around the cafeteria table and wax nostalgic about the beatings we'd received as children. Back then, my White classmates would exclaim about these acts and how wrong they were and at the time I didn't have the courage or the understanding to tell them the truth: everything Blacks in America learned about discipline, we learned from White people.

The truth is, the way Black people discipline their children has a historical root in slavery. If you want to know about the masters of torture and abuse, let's go back to the slave masters. The punishments that were doled out on the plantations and in the houses of slave owners were harsh. They weren't whoopings, they were lashings. And when slavery ended, they were lynchings. So if a slap on the hand or a quick hit with a switch might teach your child a lesson that saved them from a brutal beating from an overseer or a lynching by an overzealous white citizenry, you better believe that Black people would utilize corporal punishment. And let's really think about this, slavery last for two centuries and it would be another century before Blacks in America received the full rights of citizenship (by the way it's been 50 years since we've earned those rights for those of you doing the math). So three centuries of internalizing the brutality of slavery, Black Codes and Jim Crow. These methods of discipline and punishment that were learned from the violence inflicted on Black bodies by a white citizenry and government. But when Black people discipline their children it becomes apart of the pathology of the Black community. We are a "violent" people. No one really discusses the pathology of White violence. The modern-day lynchings of Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin are just a few examples. The abuse of adopted children (usually black and brown) by their white adoptive families is not an indication of the violent tendencies of white people but the spanking of every Black child reinforces the idea that we are not human. And this is wrong. Violence against children is wrong but it is not an inherently Black trait. 

Now on common sense. Yes, this behavior is learned and yes, for the Black community it has historical roots. Given that our community continues to be assaulted by citizens and government alike, I can understand why we still cling to these modes of discipline. If you truly believe a whooping today might instill some lesson that will save your child's life tomorrow, then that is something that takes a while to let go of (and to be honest, I see us growing and learning and letting go of those things with each generation). But there is no reason for a grown man who plays a professional sport where he slams into other gigantic men for a living to ever physically discipline a small child. I have a much younger brother and a large father, if there was a whooping doled out on occasion, my father was not giving them because he had the physical ability to kill my little brother. Again, there is no reason for a grown man to physically discipline a small child. Period. Point blank. End of. 

So you can debate the merits of corporal punishment. You can debate whether this is an issue within the Black community or the larger society. But you can't debate that what Adrian Peterson did was wrong. And whatever consequences the NFL, the police or his family chooses to enact, he will have to suck it up and hopefully learn from it. 

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