Note: I need to say that this blog post is NOT an endorsement of corporal punishment. The post is reflecting the some of the more complex emotions on this sensitive issue.
When the news first broke about Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson being indicted for physically abusing his child, my “official” belief was that what he he did crossed a line. Parents can discipline children, but if the photos that have been shown are true, well, this was way beyond a little pat on the butt.
But deep down, I felt an odd feeling- knowing that sooner or later, the issue would move to talking about corporal punishment and what role it should have in parenting if any.
I have to say, that if I ever have children I’m pretty sure I would not spank them. I just don’t think that this line of punishment works anymore.
That said, when people start talking about how horrible it is to spank children and what horrible parents these people are, I get angry at the those people.
The reason I get angry is that the issue stops being academic and becomes very, very personal. Because when we talk about the immorality of spanking children, it means that judging how my parents raised me.
Like most African Americans, I was spanked as a child. There was a time that I would have said that because my parents were strict, that saved me from a host of evils. I don’t believe that anymore, but I still get defensive about this.
I know that Chris Carter has received accolades for saying on national television that his mother was wrong in how she punished him. Maybe I’m weak, but I’m not at the point I can say that. Maybe I think that they did the best that they could as parents. Maybe I don’t want to see them as callous monsters. In my parent’s minds they weren’t as brutal as their parents. My mother has told me about how my grandmother punished her and it was rather chilling.
But the fact is, if we think that corporal punishment is a form of child abuse, then my parents weren’t merely wrong; they would also be considered monsters.
I do think corporal punishment should not be acceptable in our society. But the self-righteous and smug attitude among those opposed to spanking rubs me the wrong way. This debate brings up very personal issues; it’s the intersection of race and how we discipline. I know there are many that says race has nothing to do with this, but this is America; race usually has everything to do with anything.
I think the reason the Charles Barkleys of the world start defending Peterson is because it feels less going after Peterson, than it is an accusation about discipline among African Americans. Is this true? No, but I think many African Americans think that they are being judged by white Americans on how to best parent.
Columnist Solomon Jones talks about this in his September 15 column:
…there is an underlying truth that has not been spoken regarding the use of corporal punishment in America, specifically where African Americans are concerned.
The very violence that was used to subjugate and enslave African Americans is now frowned upon, which is a positive development.
Still, it’s hard for me to ignore the fact that American society was built on that violence, benefited from that violence, and continues to prosper as a result of that violence.
And yet when a black parent uses a switch — a microcosm of the whips that were used against slaves — he is portrayed as a monster who must be punished.
The hypocrisy here is obvious. We can’t be in favor of violence when it benefits us, and against violence when it doesn’t. We can’t endorse whipping when it enriches, and frown upon it when it doesn’t.
I do think Peterson went overboard. I do think it was right that the Vikings deactivated him and I thought it was wrong to re-activiate him (which the Vikings had to reverse after a backlash from corporate partners and the Minnesota political establishment).
Maybe my defensiveness concerning my parents is because I really believe they did the best they could.
I think there needs to be a change in how African Americans discipline their children, but I think it has to be done through education and not from a point of shame. Most parents do what they learned from their parents. They think the alternative is to allow the child to run free. Another way has to be shown, but it has to be done in a way that doesn’t tell them that they are bad parents.
My parents did they best they could as have many other parents. That needs to be taken into account when we say that corporal punishment is no longer acceptable.