Dwonna Know What I Think?”
A social/lifestyle advice and commentary column by guest contributor Dr. Dwonna Naomi Goldstone. Dr. Goldstone is a Professor of English and Coordinator of the African American Studies Minor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee.
Do you have any comments about Adrian Peterson or the seemingly sorry state of the NFL?
Yes, I do. Thanks for asking. I’m going to focus my answer on Adrian Peterson because, given the popularity of the NFL, I imagine that they will rebound from this recent rash of bad behavior from too many players and owners of the National Football League.
For those who have been napping for the past two weeks, here’s some background information on Adrian Peterson, a 29-year-old running back for the Minnesota Vikings who was charged with beating his young son.
On September 11, 2014, a Montgomery County, Texas, grand jury indicted Peterson and an arrest warrant was issued for “reckless or negligent injury to a child.” According to a police report, Peterson admitted that he had “whooped” his four-year-old son with a “branch from a tree” while the boy was visiting him in Houston. When the four-year-old boy returned to his home in Minnesota, his mother took him to a doctor because the child had “a number of lacerations on his thighs, along with bruise-like marks on his lower back and buttocks and cuts on his hand.” One doctor described some of the marks “as open wounds” and termed them “child abuse,” and another examiner agreed, calling the cuts on the boy’s body “extensive.”
According to one report, Adrian Peterson’s beatings of his four-year-old son “allegedly resulted in numerous injuries to the child, including cuts and bruises to the child’s back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum, along with defensive wounds to the child’s hands.” After the beating—which Peterson said occurred because his son had been mean to another child—Peterson texted the boy’s mother and told her that “one wound in particular would make her mad at me about his leg. I got kinda good wit the tail end of the switch.”
When investigators first spoke with Peterson, he told them that he regarded his discipline as “normal spanking and not excessive,” even though he had earlier texted the boy’s mother and wrote that his son “got about five more pops than normal. He didn’t drop one tear! So that was another indicator I’ll have to try another system with him. SMH he’s tough as nails…” The mother replied: “Well you can’t hit him til he cries! That’s just mean. He’s trying to be strong for you. He’s afraid of you. He’s 4, he’s not playing mind games with you…”
Here are images of the injuries that Peterson left on his four-year-old son; these pictures were taken at least a week after he “disciplined” him.
After the arrest warrant was issued, the Minnesota Vikings deactivated Peterson, who flew to Houston and later posted $15,000 bond. Afterwards Rusty Hardin, Peterson’s lawyer, released the following statement:
“Adrian is a loving father who used his judgment as a parent to discipline his son. He used the same kind of discipline which his child that he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas. Adrian has never hidden from what happened. He has cooperated fully with authorities and voluntarily testified before the grand jury for several hours….”
Peterson then posted the following statement to his Instagram:
Peterson and other famous and not-so-famous black folks have taken to the airwaves to tout the long-term benefits of whipping children, with many of these black folks using the Bible to support their position while simultaneously arguing that that was how they were raised and that they turned out fine. “I have always believed that the way my parents disciplined me has a great deal to do with the success I have enjoyed,” Peterson said in defending his use of corporal punishment with his six or seven children (by several different women).
Charles Barkley, a former NBA player and a co-host of “Inside the NBA” on TNT Television, told radio and television sports host Jim Rome, “I’m from the South. Whippings—we do that all the time…. Every black parent in my neighborhood in the South would be in trouble or in jail under those circumstances. I’ve gotten beat with switches. When the media talks about it, ‘beating a child’—We called it ‘spanking’ or ‘whipping’ our kids.” Not surprisingly, Charles Barkley has become the archetype and the favorite sound bite for all those who wish to defend corporal punishment, the “southern” and the “African American way for raising children.”
When Jim Rome suggested that there was no “fine line” in the Peterson situation—that that was clearly a case of “child abuse” and not of “child rearing,” Barkley said, “I think there’s a fine line, Jim. I’ve had many welts on my legs.” No, Charles Barkley—and all the other black folks who keep bumping their gums on the airwaves telling anyone and everyone who will listen to them—there is no “fine line” between spanking and/or whipping your kids and child abuse. I’m completely bored with these folks who justify beating/abusing their children with switches and belts with the nonsense of “well, that’s how I was raised, and I turned out ok.” Since when is this the standard by which we measure what’s appropriate when raising children?
The fact of the matter is that black folks probably should stay away from the “but that’s how I was raised card” when arguing whether something like corporal punishment is a beneficial tool to rearing happy and productive citizens of the world. The reality is that “beating” and “whipping” black children is hardly helping these kids leap to the pinnacle of success. According to federal statistics, some 73 percent of African American children are born out of wedlock, which often translates into a life of poverty and a substandard educational experience; approximately 38 percent of black children under the age of 18 live in poverty; almost 27 percent of black folks have an income below the poverty line; 38 percent of the prison population is comprised of black folks even though we only make up 12 percent of the U.S. population; and young black men are more likely to be a part of the criminal justice system than they are to be in college. Proverbs 13:24 says: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” Lots of black folks turn to this Bible scripture when defending, explaining, or simply justifying why they whip their children, but if we honestly look at the state of black America in 2014, perhaps we will see that whipping children with switches from a tree in the backyard isn’t working as well as some black folks want to believe it is.
As a full disclosure, I should say that I was one of those black folks whose father “whooped” her and her siblings for both minor and major transgressions. My father kept a tattered black belt—one that was too old and too beaten up for him to continue wearing—on the top shelf of the kitchen’s broom closet, and he summoned us to quickly retrieve “black betty” at the very moment he believed that talking to us was no longer getting through to us. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Michael Eric Dyson—an African American professor of sociology at Georgetown University—writes that children who are beaten often have “feelings of sadness and worthlessness, difficulties sleeping, suicidal thoughts, bouts of anxiety, outbursts of aggression, diminished concentration, intense dislike of authority, frayed relations with peers, and negative high-risk behaviors.”
Although I probably seem well-adjusted and successful to most people who meet me, I have, unfortunately, suffered from some of those aforementioned effects of corporal punishment. I know that my father did not want this for his children, and I know that he did not expect that I would suffer so much into my adulthood. I also know that my father was simply replicating how he had been raised and that he was simply trying to raise black children who would grow up to be productive and prosperous members of a sometimes racist and oftentimes hostile white society. Still, those whippings left scars that took lots of time—and years of therapy—to heal. Did my father’s whippings make me a more disciplined person? Maybe. Did they make me think twice before I did something that violated my father’s rules for behavior in and out of the house? Probably. I guess I turned out “ok” once the physical scars healed—I’m an English professor with a PhD from the University of Texas who has written a book and lots of articles on race and gender. However, the emotional scars have taken much, much longer to heal.
In their 1968 book Black Rage, African American psychiatrists William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs wrote: “Beating in child-rearing actually has its psychological roots in slavery and even yet black parents will feel that, just as they have suffered beatings as children, so it is right that their children be so treated.” Does the continued use of violence when disciplining black children foster the misconception that African Americans have to use physical strength rather than intellectual strength just like slavemasters did with their slaves? I don’t know. Clearly folks like Adrian Peterson, Charles Barkley, and too many other African Americans continue to embrace—and justify—what should be considered an antiquated and mostly ineffective way of child rearing. Although corporal punishment may make children obey a parent’s immediate request, it rarely teaches long-term self-control or self-respect.
Dr. Benjamin Spock, a pediatrician and one of the world’s most preeminent authorities on child rearing, once said, “If we are ever to turn toward a kindlier society and a safer world, a revulsion against the physical punishment of children would be a good place to start.” We do need a world with kinder and more compassionate children, and perhaps it’s time for black folks to evolve into the 21st century and find alternative methods for disciplining their children. Leaving scars and welts may have been how their parents disciplined them, but it shouldn’t be how black parents—or any parents—discipline their children today.
*Dr. Dwonna Naomi Goldstone is a Professor of English and Coordinator of the African American Studies Minor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. She loves assisting her students and is willing to share advice with anyone who will listen. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.