News and social media have all been abuzz because of the child abuse charges lodged against Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson chastised his 4-year-old son who was visiting by whipping him with a “switch” and leaving bruises and welts on his legs, buttocks, and scrotum. The marks were observed by the child’s doctor several days after the whipping and by law the doctor was required to report it as a case of possible child abuse.
Peterson was indicted in Texas for child abuse, posted bond and returned home. Initially, the Vikings suspended him for one game. By Monday the team announced that he would rejoin the team but there was such a groundswell of anger from the public that the Vikings then placed Peterson on their “exempt” list meaning he could not practice or play with the team. Throughout this episode talking heads, commentators, and the entire blogosphere was “on fire” talking about whether or not Peterson was guilty of abuse.
Some folks began pointing the finger at Peterson saying he was an abuser and wrong on all counts. Others defended him saying it is a shame that parents can no longer discipline their children without being labelled abusers. Peterson’s explanation for what he did was that he disciplined his son the way his parents disciplined him. On the next Sunday morning, former Viking and sports analyst, Chris Carter made an emotional statement about his mother who in an attempt to parent 7 children on her own had whipped him. But, said Carter in an emotional expression, “My mother was wrong. She did the best she could with what she had but she was wrong!”
The Peterson incident brought the Black community back into the debate about the usefulness of spanking (or whipping) as a disciplinary technique. One of the oft quoted assertions from Peterson’s defenders has been, “My parents whipped me and I turned out all right!” To such a statement I ask, “Are you?” Are you all right because of the whippings or in spite of them? Some (like Charles Barkley) claim that “all Black people (in the South) beat their kids. This may or may not be a true statement. What is true is that the way we began this form of punishment was grounded in some cultural practices.
Good parents realize that discipline should never be driven by fear or anger. Unfortunately, much of it is. When we save a child from the brink of disaster our first inclination is to shake her violently because her behavior has scared us to death. Or when a child does something so reprehensible or disrespectful we become so angry we want to show him who’s boss. However, our ancestors’ response often was to send us to “get a switch” and tell us “and it better be a good one.” The process of walking out and searching for the switch gave us time to think deeply about what we did to end up in the particular predicament. At the same time we were searching for a switch, grandma was using the time to cool off so that the “switching” did not occur in anger.
The decision to spank or whip children is a personal one. In some 19 states it is legal for school personnel to spank students. Ours is a violent society that regularly solves its problems through violence. Indeed our favorite sport (football) is predicated on violence. This is not a cut and dry issue but we do know that societies change and evolve. What was acceptable in one generation may not be in another. What our parents did with us may not be what we should do with our children. As the late Maya Angelou said, “When we know better, we do better!” I wonder if you think we know better around this issue of corporal punishment,
Stay Black & Smart!