It would be easy to demonize Peterson as an abuser, but the forthrightness with which he talked about using belts and switches but not extension cords, because he “remembers how it feels to get whooped with an extension cord,” as part of his modes of discipline suggests he is merely riffing on scripts handed down to him as an African-American man.
These cultures of violent punishment are ingrained within African-American communities. In fact, they are often considered marks of good parenting. In my childhood, parents who “thought their children were too good to be spanked” were looked upon with derision. I have heard everyone from preachers to comedians lament the passing of days when a child would do something wrong at a neighbor’s house, get spanked by that neighbor, and then come home and get spanked again for daring to misbehave at someone else’s house. For many that is a vision of a strong black community, in which children are so loved and cared for that everyone has a stake in making sure that those children turn out well, and “know how to act.” In other words, it is clear to me that Peterson views his willingness to engage in strong discipline as a mark of being a good father. . .
Stakes are high because parenting black children in a culture of white supremacy forces us to place too high a price on making sure our children are disciplined and well-behaved. I know that I personally place an extremely high value on children being respectful, well-behaved and submissive to authority figures. I’m fairly sure this isn’t a good thing.
If black folks are honest, many of us will admit to both internally and vocally balking at the very “free” ways that we have heard white children address their parents in public. Many a black person has seen a white child yelling at his or her parents, while the parents calmly respond, gently scold, ignore, attempt to soothe, or failing all else, look embarrassed.
I can never recount one time, ever seeing a black child yell at his or her mother in public. Never. It is almost unfathomable.
It has long been time for us to forgo violence as a disciplinary strategy. But as Charles Barkley notes, if we lock up Adrian Peterson, we could lock up every other black parent in the South for the same behavior. Instead, I hope Peterson is a cautionary tale, not about the state intruding on our “right” to discipline our children but rather a wakeup call about how much (fear of) state violence informs the way we discipline our children.
If the murder of Michael Brown has taught us nothing else, we should know by now that the U.S. nation-state often uses deadly violence both here and abroad as a primary mode of disciplining people with black and brown bodies. Darren Wilson used deadly force against Michael Brown as a mode of discipline (and a terroristic act) for Brown’s failure to comply with the request to walk on the sidewalk.
The loving intent and sincerity of our disciplinary strategies does not preclude them from being imbricated in these larger state-based ideas about how to compel black bodies to act in ways that are seen as non-menacing, unobtrusive and basically invisible. Many hope that by enacting these micro-level violences on black bodies, we can protect our children from macro and deadly forms of violence later.