Black children are beloved and beaten

September 18, 2014 at 5:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

“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 b 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 harsher 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 4-year-old pushed his brother off a video game. Peterson 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 are 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.

If you’re looking for parental guidance from African-American ministers—young and old —on this issue, more of them than not are likely to recite the hackneyed phrase “spare the rod, spoil the child,” and have you read the biblical injunction stated in Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”

Let’s not forget the 2012 child abuse incident with Atlanta mega church minister Creflo Dollar. When his 15-year-old daughter called 911 because he choked and slapped her, Rev. Dollar was only detained in jail for a few hours. He had to be released because the local NAACP was outraged releasing the following statement:

“The parents are in a dilemma whether to forgo disciplining their children or to leave it up to law enforcement. Should we be apathetic, lax or indifferent and let the courts send our unruly children to jail or should we as parents do our duty and appropriately discipline our children?”

There’s the racist belief that our children should be beaten as a disciplinary method—and our style easily feeds right into it. For example, the 2002 Journal of Clinical Child Psychology issue unabashedly reported that the authoritative style black parents use on their children was more effective.

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 trying to figure out what is the appropriate punishment gains 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 to be revered, but rather cease and desist immediately.

In 2010 First Lady Michelle Obama learned that lesson when she admitted to spanking her then 4-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]. Malia was younger, probably 4.”

The challenge to our community is break free from a shackle of our past, corporal punishment, to find a peaceful, and more effective, way to discipline our children.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim.
 Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As a religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”

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