Black Parenting and the Flawed Science of “Whoopings”

Shaka Shaw

By now, if you’ve been on social media at all over the past 24 hours, you have seen the latest in what seems like an ongoing series of NFL players being caught in the act of treating their families poorly. Fresh on the heels of the Ray Rice wife-beating incident, we now have the case of Adrian Peterson, who is being charged with child abuse (“reckless or negligent injury to a child”) after he allegedly used a “switch” (thin tree branch) to beat his child (some stories state the child is a four-year-old, while others omit this information as not having been released). You can read the story here or anywhere else, but the details so far, including photographs of the resulting lacerations, are disturbing to me, being a parent of a young boy myself. Like clockwork, some of the same people who were defending Ray Rice’s behavior a few days ago donned their capes to defend this one, leading me to believe that some people will excuse anything as long as the perpetrator plays their favorite sport. It’s really a sad state of affairs, especially when it speaks to how we still look at child-rearing not only as a society, but among Black people specifically.

Adrian Peterson and I are about the same size, with him being about an inch taller and a couple of pounds heavier, not to mention in the physical shape of a pro athlete where I’m…well, not. I couldn’t see putting my hands on mine or anyone’s four-year-old in a way that would leave those kinds of marks, let alone using an object to do so. Reportedly, he did this because the boy knocked another sibling off of a motorbike game. Teaching a child to be respectful of others, wait their turn and to keep their hands to themselves just doesn’t warrant whipping your son as if you’ve just caught him teaching field hands to read. Because that’s essentially what it is – whipping – something that’s tied to our heritage and still affects us to this day, perhaps more than we know.

It seems we’re quick to move on when it comes to hairstyles and sneakers, but the last to evolve or re-examine old ideas when it comes to important shit… like parenting. The “it worked for me” defense is getting a little worse for wear when we are in the age of knowing better or at least having 24/7 access to knowing better. We now know iceberg lettuce has no real nutritional value. We now know it probably isn’t a good idea to smoke cigarettes around our kids and that they should have a car seat or at least a seat-belt when riding in our cars. This wasn’t always the case before the 1980s or so. These things “worked for us” at one point in time and don’t now because we know better and have access to more information. At this point, people are simply choosing to be stupid in favor of nostalgia and what they feel is a quick solution. It’s all shits and giggles when we’re reminiscing on the “good old days” when our parents seemingly gave less of a damn, when in actuality they just didn’t have the information to tell them that there’s probably a better way.

To be clear, I am not against spanking and I don’t think it’s going away or that it needs to in its entirety. But when the idea is to injure, cause pain, and release rage, you need to take a step back and realize what it is that you’re doing. When you get to a point when it hurts them physically more than it hurts you as a parent, there’s a problem. Being disrespectful and over-stepping set boundaries is something that you can get your ass kicked for in life, literally and figuratively. This is true. Maybe as Black parents, we feel we’re hardening our children for a world where they may face worse. Maybe to a degree, we need to as parents of all races. However, there’s a difference between ‘spanking’ and beating your child with objects or closed fists. We must also be cognizant of the age of our children, their level of reasoning at that age, and the fact that what we could be teaching them is that the way to get people to do what you want is through physical coercion, which brings about a whole new set of problems. Your instinctual, most primal obligation as a parent is to protect your child; and if you are your child’s primary source of fear and anxiety, what are you really accomplishing?

I once thought spanking would be an easy go-to solution… then I actually had a kid. Have I had to discipline him? Absolutely. But seeing a look of fear on my son’s face when looking at me makes me feel like the biggest dirt-bag in the world, which is why if I’m ever to get terse with him or if I have to tap his bottom for some major infraction, I’m sure to sit him down and explain what happened and why I did what I did or why I was upset with him. Being part of a cohesive parental unit also helps, as when I’m actually enraged or frustrated about something, I’m able to share my feelings with my wife and co-parent. And if I’m too incensed to approach the situation with love and understanding, she can take over. Raising your children to fear you as opposed to respecting you is an archaic way of going about things. Simply put, if you can’t instill basic respect and obedience without beating your child bloody, then you need to re-evaluate whether or not this parenting thing is something you’re bright enough to take on. Did you ever think that what you consider a beating is punishment for your own failings as a parent? Thing is, I guarantee there are parents who are neglecting to read to/with their small children on a daily basis, but will beat their children for poor performance in school years from now. Before you raise your hand to strike your child, you may want to take the initiative as the responsible adult in the situation to think “what could I have done better prior to this to correct this behavior?” A human mind is a complex thing and it’s foolish to think beatings are the best tool to use in shaping a young one.

I often say there’s no handbook to this parenting thing. It will throw you for a loop and try your patience. You will not feel ready and there’s no real way to be ready. However, there is no shame in seeking out help – and it isn’t “acting white” to read up on parenting techniques for when you’re frustrated. While no one person can tell you how to raise your kid, there are lots of people with degrees in psychology or with good, common sense who can help shape you as a parent in the modern day. Doing what Big Mama did is no longer the be-all, end-all. Our children deserve more than “good enough for us.” We’ve got to be smarter than this. It’s so necessary.

Shaka Shaw is the founder and sole contributor at Front-Free.com. He isn’t a parenting expert, but his kid is  -  among many things   –   happy, obedient and respectful.

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