If it can be said that real men don’t hit women, then we should also say real men don’t beat children.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted on a felony charge for beating his four-year-old son with a switch — a tree branch — in an act that exceeded “reasonable discipline” according to the Montgomery County, Texas, District Attorney’s office. The NFL player punished his son for pushing another one of his children off of a motorbike video game, and Peterson said the whooping was not unlike the discipline “he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas.”
The boy reportedly suffered from numerous injuries, including cuts and wounds to his ankles, legs, hands, back, buttocks and scrotum. The child also said his father hit him with belts and put leaves in his mouth while he was being hit, pants down, with the switch.
As a black father with a four-year old son, I cannot imagine ever beating my beautiful child. I cannot and will not treat my son like a slave.
POINT 1: A child may need a beating. Children have different personalities and response to different types and levels of beating. Some children will get it right without a beating. My oldest brother was only beat twice during his entire childhood, while the brother above me in age got beatings more often. He was a different child. I now some folks that got beatings and do not beat their children. I also know people who received beatings and also beated their children. This is not a one size fits all kind of thing.
It is clear that Peterson went too far. Why the leaves in the mouth and the hitting in the scrotum? Notice I said nothing about the switch beating. I asked my uncle once, "Why do you think they use to beat y'all with switches?" He said it was for three reasons: First, you could be made to go and get it, which made you contemplate what you had did wrong; Second, the beating stung like hell but there was no chance of it leaving permanent scars or doing internal damage--it only did superficial or surface "damage;" And lastly, the physical whelps the beating left acted as a reminder of the beating and what you did wrong--they were deterrents.
On a superficial level you might associate beatings with being treated like a slave. But on a deeper level, it addresses a part of the soul--the animal aspect in particular. This part of our being has to be trained, and physical pain assist in this training. If you've ever seen a traditional rite of passage, the most obvious thing that jumps out at you is the physical assault (or attack) on the body. In short, we can be more effective at conditioning one's behavior through attacking the body, and creating positive behavior by tapping into the animal aversion to pain. Yes physical beatings were part of our enslavement, but they were elements or aspects of traditional Afrikan initiation systems as well, and this was long before our Maafa. But what seems to have happened, is as our collective value system continues to deteriorate, it effects all aspects of our lives--disciplining our children included. One cannot discipline one's children without love and discipline. If these elements are absent then you simply have abuse.
The switch is a longstanding African-American institution, both feared and revered. Everyone in the black community either has heard of or experienced firsthand the grandma who ordered the child to go fetch the tree branch, the switch that would be used in his or her own beating. They said it was necessary to keep children on the straight and narrow, out of trouble and respectful of their elders.
But what if the explanation for the switch is far more troubling? Sometimes, people act based on what they know. And in the case of the black community and the black family, we cannot disregard our very real connection to slavery times and the internalizing and perpetuation of our trauma.
We all cringe with horror, perhaps even cry, when we view depictions of brutality in films such as 12 Years a Slave. It feels far too familiar, too close to home. If we recoil at the sight of slaves being beaten, then why would we subject our own children to the same treatment? The purpose of whippings, floggings and other forms of abuse under slavery was clear — to subjugate and control black people with arbitrary cruelty, beat them down not just physically but also spiritually and psychically, and reinforce the master’s control over them.
In some cases, enslaved black parents — who really had no rights over their own children, and perhaps had to care for the master’s children at the expense of their own — beat their children to please their owner, or to ward off more severe punishment from the master.
POINT 2: The switch was part of our Afrikan tradition as well. People were beat with switches in Kemet (ancient Egypt). Now if you are arguing that today the continued use of the switch is a legacy of slavery I would disagree. First, I believe switch beatings are dying a natural death. I was beat with a switch. (I remember at the age of 14 I hid my mother's best switch and our hides never saw it again. I didn't feel guilty about doing it either.) But the home environment that I was nurtured it was filled with love, and we never felt our parents were abusing us--we understood that we had disobeyed. All my brothers and sisters beat their children. However, when I was about 15 I started to hear that some children were getting beatings with extension cords. I remember saying that that was extreme. My parents felt the same way, and they never beat us with things like that. The worst beating I remember a member of my family getting was my older brother. At age 15 or so, he tried to break into a Genovese Drug store. When the cops brought him home (we lived in Long Island) he was slight intoxicated. My parents told him to take a bath (to soften his skin) and he got a switch beating. To my parent the punishment had to fit the crime. And yes this beating was meant to be a deterrent for him and the rest of us children. It worked on us.
So how can this in any way benefit our children today?
Many parents physically discipline their children, and black folks are no exception. And corporal punishment is not illegal in most states unless it causes severe harm. But just because something is legal does not mean it is right. And if you wonder how far you can go and steer clear of child protective services before crossing the line into criminal child abuse, then you have missed the point.
Study after study has shown that harsh physical punishment can have detrimental effects on children, including changes to the brain — literally ”less grey matter” -- slow cognitive development, and increasing odds of depression and addiction, low educational achievement, aggression and criminal behavior. Spanking during childhood also increases the chances of that child hitting other children and their parents and hitting a spouse or dating partner as an adult.
POINT 3: We are not talking about harsh punishment--that's abuse. I am not arguing that some beatings are not abusive or should be considered child abuse. As I said even as a young man I thought beating with extension chords was excessive. I am saying that to condemn all forms of beatings and to act like they serve no good purpose is misleading and even dishonest. Beatings should be one from of discipline that along punishments, denials, and other devices complete the picture of discipline. Beatings are not the end all be all. But they should remain on of the tools in the discipline arsenal.
Moreover, spanking does not work better than any other form of correction; any short-term changes in misbehavior can come at a very high cost.
Let’s not forget verbal abuse, telling children — perhaps peppered with four-letter words — they are forever worthless and useless, and unloved. This form of abuse is just as harmful to a child’s psyche as a beating is to his or her body and physical and emotional well-being.
POINT 4: Verbal abuse is worse than beatings. Again, in the case of the switch, the damage done is short term, superficial. But verbal abuse affects the psyche, and if it is used in conjunction with a beating, it will negatively impact the beating, and perhaps impart a more pejorative aspect to the beatings. What is said will be remember long after the beating. But a tongue-lashing is not necessarily abuse--it can be instructive.
Some parents use their kids as a punching bag out of frustration, reflecting the stresses and economic strain of daily life. And I believe physical force is easier than mind power for many, because they cannot communicate effectively with their children. I prefer talking to my son, using reason, incentives and other forms of non-physical correction with him. I am not saying parenthood does not pose its challenges, and kids are smarter than we ever were. But I want my son to respect me, not fear me.
POINT 5: Ever wonder why you need the fear of God in you? (You must have forgot your Holy Bible reminds you that if you spare the rod you will spoil the child?) Fear put limits, restraints on relationships. If a child does not have limits, then what will deter them from being disrespectful? What will make them listen? Their love for you or their fear of you? They must fear the consequences--this is how they learn to behave. The truth is Fear is a component of Respect. Fear plus Love equals Respect. With love alone a child will walk all over you.
Further, the idea is not to make Adrian Peterson a whipping boy or a poster child for child abuse. He is by no means alone, and we know there are multitudes more parents just like him. In any case, Peterson must come to terms with the horrible things he allegedly did to his son, as the justice system must deal with him, and surely the NFL will.
But in the end, if a criminal prosecution, league sanctions and maybe even an ousted commissioner are the only takeaways from this high profile case of child abuse, then there is a missed opportunity for society, and for black America, to deal with a serious problem. We must break the cycle of trauma that passes from generation to generation like the DNA and heal both the victim and the victimizer. We must challenge societal norms concerning definitions of manhood, and black manhood, and the notion that one must use physical violence against others as a means of controlling them. This includes bastions of testosterone, including the military and law enforcement, where child and spousal abuse are rampant, and professional sports, where the data on domestic violence is nonexistent and arrests are lower than the national average, but most arrests are for domestic violence.
In the meantime, it is time to give the switch a final resting place. Let’s not go there anymore.
POINT 6: The switch served a useful purpose. Love sees the use of physical force on a child as a control mechanism, and it is. Clearly parents should have control over their children. Children that do not know how to behave are pain in the ass to the community. How can your child interact with other child and adults if they do not listen. Why should your child because of your lack of control of him or her have to burden the community. Teaching one's children to listen, to behave, is a communal responsibility. It is actually, a human obligation. But what the author overlooks is that though beatings srve as a control mechanism, they are more importantly used as teaching tools. Clearly as the family and various institutions break down, our sense of discipline will become debased. It is this debasement we have to be concerned about and more importantly, how we can reverse the general downward spiraling of our "culture" and its values.