The sports world has become a veritable firestorm of Black men behaving VERY badly as of late with Ray Rice and Greg Hardy in the news for domestic violence. However, domestic violence and professional athletes go back many decades, before our Father's Father. To take it a bit further, professional athletes and the criminal justice system are well acquainted to a great extent as well. However, with the recent child abuse allegations that are now surrounding Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, we’re met with a completely brand new set of legal circumstances and an incident that is showing a time honored African American cultural construct in a bad light. When it comes to metting discipline upon our children, there are few groups of people in the United States who are more proud of their willingness to use corporal punishment against unruly youngsters than African Americans. People of Christian heritage love to interpret the metaphor “Spare the rod, spoil the child” to mean that God approves of us beating the crap out of our children if they do not do as we say.
One would be hard pressed to find an attribute of the multi-generational person of African descent that is more steeped in our distant history of slavery as this. I can recall my late Grandmother being bed-ridden due to complications from diabetes. She had gained quite a bit of weight and could not situate herself in the bed without assistance. My oldest brother Marcus was charged with assisting my Grandfather in moving her around in the bedding as to prevent bedsores. One day Marcus’ grips slipped just a little before he was able firmly and safely grab her arm again. “If he drops me, beat his ass Charlie” she screamed to our Grandfather. Thankfully, he did not drop her. My siblings and I were well aware of the consequences if we dared openly disobey our mother, shirk our chores or cease to do our very best in school. As we grew older, we became evermore aware of the varieties in which our punishment could be administered.
There were belts, switches, shoes and the dreaded extension cord. But we heard horrifying tales of other children who suffered an even more painful and diabolical fate than we. Some of our childhood friends told stories of being told to take a bath and were accosted by a belt-wielding parent before the child could dry off. Wet flesh made a swinging belt sting even more so. Many children were told to strip naked before being “whipped”. Another method of “punishment” incorporated a technique in which the most painful part was the waiting.
You didn’t know when it was coming, or from what direction. If you lived in a two-parent household, you didn’t know who was going to be administering the punishment. You would be lulled into complacency as the other pressing matters of childhood whisked you away until that one day when you were forced to pay your dreaded atonement. I once overheard my mother and my Aunt Mary talking about the most painful ways to administer a whipping.
My siblings and I tried all sorts of evasive maneuvers to avoid getting beat, but none of them ever worked. Humans make mistakes and there were times when the wrong sibling was getting spanked for the misdeeds of another. Whenever these sorts of oversights were brought up, my mother usually said something along the lines of “Well, you can take that one for something you’re going to do then” but that “ass-whipping in the bank” is never applied to any future balance of disobedience. A common line given by all parents prior to administering corporal punishment upon their child is “This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you” and I would always beg to differ.
There were even times when I feared that my mother actually enjoyed it. She was adept at the “Waiting” technique and would even joke about it days later. Maybe she used humor to soften the effect harming her own children caused on her own psyche. But even my sainted mother, in all her belt-wielding glory, did not start administering this kind of punishment until she felt I was big enough to take it, which was around seven or eight-years-old. Despite the age, bloody welts and bruises were a rare happenstance.
As was expected, there are people falling on both sides of the child abuse issue. NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley had this to say regarding the Adrian Peterson situation.
Barkley: "I'm from the South. I understand Boomer's (Esiason) rage and anger … but he's a white guy and I'm a black guy. I don't know where he's from (editor's note: Esiason grew up in Long Island), I'm from the South. Whipping — we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances."
Barkley: "I don't believe that because, listen, we spank kids in the South. I think the question about whether Adrian Peterson went overboard — Listen, Jim, we all grow up in different environments. Every black parent in my neighborhood in the South would be in trouble or in jail under those circumstances."
Barkley: "We called it 'spanking' or 'whipping' our kids."
As was alluded to earlier in this article, the term “whipping” is clearly a reference to the manner in which African slaves were punished during our country’s youth. Corporal punishment is an integral part of the culture of many African Americans, especially those with roots in the south. Most of the cultural tenets of Americans of African descent are from slavery times. While the world stands in judgment of Adrian Petersen, the fact that this type of behavior is a holdover from a time when whippings were a possibility for any Black person in America hasn’t been mentioned once in the major media.
Perhaps the manner in which slavery-instilled behaviors are still being acted out generations after the Emancipation Proclamation is the real issue and the child abuse issue is the subtext. However, we must acknowledge that beating a four year old child until you draw blood is going overboard. I can’t blame Adrian Peterson for disciplining his child in the same manner his father disciplined him, and his father’s father disciplined his children, nor can I blame my mother for disciplining me in the same manner that her mother disciplined her, and her mother’s mother disciplined her children. But again, breaking the skin and drawing blood on a four-year-old is unacceptable.
Modern day Blacks are but the lens through which the hopes, efforts and ideas of the ancestors are cast upon the silver screen of contemporary times. Oftentimes those ideas manifest in our beauty and brilliance, sometimes they do not.
This is one of those times when we must all make collective and private decisions on whether this practice is worthy of passing on to our children or should it be allowed to fall by the wayside.