”Beloved and beaten” is a phrase that best depicts how many African American children — past and present — are disciplined. It is an authoritative type of African American parenting discipline style that is painfully revered. Yet, in too many incidents, it continues to be uncritically passed along generationally.
When Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted on allegation of child abuse, he admitted to using the disciplinary methods passed down by his father. ”I have always believed that the way my parents disciplined me has a great deal to do with the success I have enjoyed as a man,” Peterson said in a statement.
Among those coming to Peterson’s defense was NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley. “Whipping — we do that all the time. Every Black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances,” Barkley stated in an interview with Jim Rome on the CBS pregame show The NFL Today.
Comedian D.L. Hughley tweeted his thought, ”Who knew that was illegal, ’cuz my mama would be in jail!” The ”in jail” part Hughley is referring to is the punishment that Black parents would likely receive due to the flogging and excessive bodily harm many exact on their children — all in the name of discipline. It’s done without reproach, both legally and culturally.
“I’ve had many welts on my legs,” Barkley, recalling his childhood beatings, told Rome. Unfortunately, the tradition of this type of discipline style lives on — unchecked and unexamined. While Black people don’t have a monopoly on beating children, we do have unique reasons for choosing it as a style of discipline.
Using corporal punishment on our Black children is rooted in the violent history of American slavery. It was a prophylactic method to protect Black slave children from hasher beatings from White slavers by having enslaved adult Africans — parents or authority figures — publicly discipline them.
The ”switch” has become an African American institution both feared and revered. This savage tool that was once used to break the back of my ancestors sadly finds its marks on too many Black children’s bodies today.
In a tussle over a toy, Peterson’s four-year-old pushed his brother off a video game. Peterson allegedly reacted by shoveling leaves in his son’s mouth from the ”switch” made from the tree branch he used to lash him, pants down. His son sustained lacerations and wounds to his ankles, legs, hands, back, buttocks and scrotum, requiring medical attention.
“My goal is always to teach my son right from wrong, and that’s what I tried to do that day,” Peterson stated in his defense. But too little progress has been made in peacefully teaching right from wrong, because teaching positive nonviolent child discipline methods in my culture is a Herculean task to both uproot and replant.
The internalized violence many of us are unconsciously passing on to future generations — as a disciplinary method or prophylactic approach — is doing as much harm to our children as the ongoing toll of racism and discrimination they confront. But like Peterson, some Black parents still see physical discipline as their duty, and data supports it revealing that 89 percent of African Americans use corporal punishment to discipline our children.
Black parents have an uphill battle disciplining our children. Our children confront a myriad of obstacles before them: a higher school drop-out rate, teen pregnancies, gang violence, juvenile detention, being racially profiled and killed by police, to name a few.
Parenting is hard, and while trying to figure out what is the appropriate punishment we gain nothing with the force of violence. And just because it was done back in the day from slavery to our childhood, it doesn’t mean it ought be revered, but rather we should cease and desist from it immediately.
In 2010 First Lady Michelle Obama learned that lesson when she admitted to spanking her then-four-year-old Malia — the same age as Peterson’s son — but she came away changed. “I did it one or two times and just found it to be completely ineffective because it was less about teaching a lesson and more about my own [feelings].”
The challenge to our community is breaking free from a shackle of our past — corporal punishment — to find a peaceful and more effective way to discipline our children.
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Huffington Post blogger and freelance journalist.