The Vicious Cycle of Child Abuse In The Black Community

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Let me start by letting you all know that I consider myself a black woman; therefore, I believe I qualify as a member of the so-called “black community.” That said, I believe the black community is as diverse as saying “the American community”, but I digress.  This past weekend, I had the privilege of being a guest caller on the radio show Cole And The Cure.  This show has a large Black American audience, and is based in Tampa, FL.  While some people might argue if Tampa counts as “the deep south”, the callers certainly considered themselves southern.

The show focused on the issue of Child Abuse.  Mr. Cole, the host, called me to participate after reading my blog from last week on Adrian Peterson.  Before addressing the audience, I had a chance to listen to many callers’ views on spanking.  I have to admit, I was shocked and appalled at what I was hearing.   Several callers claimed that “whooping” a child was just a part of black culture, and blamed police for intervening in the way Peterson decided to “discipline” his child.  Others claimed that while Peterson shouldn’t have left a mark, they believed it was ok to beat their child.  Even the co-host admitted that when she first heard the story she believed that Peterson was just “handling his business” as a parent.

Out of all the callers, however, I was most concerned when a woman explained her belief that you should beat your children young, because they were too young to understand reason.  She went on to say that since police officers beat prisoners, she is just getting her children ready for the real world by hitting them when they “step out of line.” So after the show, I went straight to my computer and jotted down some take away thoughts about the state of the black community:

Are are raising our children to be prisoners?

 Do people actually think that because prison guards use physical punishment, using this same type of behavior on your child will stop them from becoming a prisoner?   I firmly believe that if you hit your child in an attempt to curb violence, you are going to likely spur the very thing you are claiming to be trying to stop.

When I was a teacher in California, I was told during one of the State training sessions that the State of California used third grade writing assessments to project how many prisons the State would need to build in the future.  Now I won’t get into the obvious parallels they were making between the education of third graders and prison projects; however, the debate on child discipline vs. abuse had me thinking about this statistic.  Was there something to this?  Not only was the State making a judgement on children ending up in prison, many parents were raising their children as if it was a forgone conclusion.

The Impact Of Violence At A Young Age:  

One of the most disturbing things about the radio show was the common believe that people should hit their children as a form of discipline when they are “too young to understand reason.”  This was shockingly illogical to me.  Imagine being a child who is not yet verbal, and you hit or bite someone.  In response, because you are too young to be reasoned with, your parent decides to hit you with a switch.

(Let’s take a moment of contemplative silence to think about the irony here…)

Do you really think that this child, after being smacked, is going to “learn his lesson”?  This poor kid is likely to be intensely confused by the fact that you were angry about him hitting someone, and your response was hitting him.  By showing your child this odd form of discipline, or child abuse as I would call it, you have effectively taught your child that when you are upset – the logical response is to hit.

Psychological research shows that a child learns to form attachments before the age of five.  If your form of discipline involves intentionally inflicting pain on your child, I would like to challenge you to think about the life long scars that you are forming that might not present in a physical mark.

Social Responsibility:

Another response that I heard on the radio show was this idea that “spanking my child is my business”, and “I know the difference between spanking and abuse”.  People often hear about my tragic case, and insist that the way they choose to discipline is not at the level of what happened to my son, and therefore, they don’t have to worry about it.  My response to these people is this:  While many things that happen behind your doors at night is your business, you better hope that police don’t take the stance that child abuse is not something for police to get involved in.  Many people like to believe that this issue is not impacting them, however, there are many abusive parents who hide behind the idea that their form of discipline is their business.  By propagating this crap that police should stay out of your form of discipline, you are putting children at risk of being hurt or killed.

Slavery And Child Abuse:

I anticipate that many folks will not want to hear this, but just because you were beaten…your parents were beaten…and your ancestors were beaten does not mean that you need to continue the cycle.  Charles Barkley, in all his idiotic wisdom, defended Adrian Peterson by that, “every black parent in the south” whoops their child.  Barkley went on to say,  “Every black parent in the South is gonna be in jail under those circumstances.  I think we have to be careful letting people dictate how they treat their children.”  I have news for you Charles:  There was a time when it was legal for white people to beat black people too.  I am thankful that the government stepped in, and dictated that black people have Civil Rights and should not be owned and abused as property.  If that hadn’t occurred, both you and I would be in a field picking cotton, or serving as an unpaid hand in masters’ kitchen.

 

I cannot say how my son’s father was raised, or what created the monster who killed my son Prince.  I do, however, know for sure that violence begets violence.  Until we are man and woman enough to break the cycle of violence, these terrible things will continue to happen in our society.  Many of you are likely thinking that my stance against child abuse comes from having grown up in a cushy non-abusive environment.  That is not the case.  I am the first person to stand here and say that while I was hit as a child, due to the same cultural acceptance of child abuse, I am strongly against it for my child.  My child will be raised to respect me, and not fear me.  She will be raised to understand that she is entitled to the same Civil Rights as an adult.  She will not be raised to assume that one day she will be a prisoner, and she will understand that violence has no good place in our society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ray Rice – The Child Of An Adrian Peterson

 

Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson

Almost a year ago, I wrote about a terrible tragedy - the murder of Adrian Peterson’s two-year old son.  In the past week, you would have to have been hiding under a rock not to hear about how this same man, who lost a son he never had the chance to know, was now being indicted for abusing his four year old son.  I cannot accurately describe the rage I felt when I heard this story.  I defended Peterson a year ago, and was sad for him that he never had the chance to know his child who was murdered.  Now, after seeing the graphic pictures of his four year old son’s battered little boy, I want to spit on this poor excuse for a father.

Close to home:

For those who are familiar with my story, you know that I am intimately familiar with how it feels to lose a child.  I also know the pain of learning that your child was murdered as the result of a horribly abusive incident.  I simply cannot understand how a man whose child was murdered in this violent way can justify raising his hand to another one of his children.  As I read more and more about the story, I felt as though I had entered some strange alternate reality.  I couldn’t believe how bold this man was to believe he would not have to face the law after what he did.  In case you missed it, the following text messages show Peterson’s reaction to what he did to this innocent child.

(The following are text messages he sent the child’s mother after returning the child from a visit.)

Mother: “What happened to his head?”

Peterson: “Hit his head on the Carseat.”

Mother: “How does that happen, he got a whoopin in the car.”

Peterson: “Yep.”

Mother: “Why?”

Peterson: “I felt so bad. But he did it his self.”

(The messages go on with Peterson describing how he was “disciplining” the child for cussing at a sibling.)

Mother: “What did you hit him with?”

Peterson: “Be still n take ya whooping he would have saved the scare (scar). He aight (all right)”

(Translation in the event you cannot understand Peterson’s poor use of the English language:  “If he had not tried to escape me when I was beating him up, maybe he wouldn’t have gotten a scar.  He will be alright.”)

Public Reaction:

When I heard about Peterson, I was appalled, and I regretted ever believing he would have been a good influence for any of his children.  What is equally appalling is the reactions that I have heard from people after the news that Peterson had been indicted.  People came out of the woodwork to defend child abuse.  Since Peterson used the term “discipline”, many folks believed this gave him a free pass to beat the shit out of his four year old.

Here is a sample of some of the vial things I read in response to the felony that Peterson committed against his son:

1)  “If it left bruises and welts, okay fine, charge him. I’m just waiting for the anti-spanking brigade to use this to push their parenting ideas on others. While everyone has their own ideas about punishment, I don’t think using a switch constitutes abuse.”

In what reality does beating a child with a stick NOT cause bruises and welts?  How about I have you grab a branch off of that tree so I can hit you with it, and let’s see if you still think this doesn’t constitute abuse.

I am not in the business of giving random unsolicited parenting advice (ok, maybe sometimes I do – but you all have the choice to continue reading or not).  It isn’t my business whether you choose to give your kids veggies for breakfast, sleep train a certain way, or wait until they are older for kindergarten.  That said, I will ALWAYS stand firm against child abuse because your abused child is going to turn into an adult who thinks abuse is an acceptable behavior when you are upset with someone.  Whether or not you choose to abuse your child is not a personal parenting decision.  It is something society has a right to judge and speak out against.  And yes, I am from the anti-spanking brigade.

2)  “This is insulting. Why in the hell would he be charged with anything for this? He is a parent and can discipline his children however he sees fit!!!!”

Just because people like this disguise child abuse with the term “discipline” doesn’t make it any less illegal.  Newsflash, you don’t have a right as a parent to abuse your child.  Period.

3)  “No big deal, my Mom/Dad did the same to me.”  And one of my favorite variations of this argument:

“I was spanked as a kid. I think I turned out fine. I am 23, and even to this day, my mom wouldn’t hesitate to slap me across the face.”

This quote I have seen in several different locations.  This argument is just as silly as saying, “well, it isn’t a big deal that my husband beats me…I mean, my Dad beat my Mom and she didn’t get killed.”  Wake up folks!!  Just because you were abused as a child, doesn’t mean you should continue the abuse just because it happened to you.  I also wonder what sort of respect you have for yourself, and for your mother, if you are 23 and your Mom is slapping you in the face.  Congratulations for surviving an abusive childhood, but please stop the cycle.

Alarming Parallels:

I could go on for pages with the amount of people who were defending this sorry ass human.  Wasn’t just a few weeks ago when we had to watch another football player knock out his wife in an elevator?  After the way people reacted to Peterson, it shouldn’t shock us that domestic violence has become so damn common.  So many people seem to think its ok for an adult to hit a child (which nobody would argue is a fair fight), but when a grown man beats a grown woman we wonder why she is staying in the marriage.  Why do we have such double standards when it comes to children, yet we are all appalled and confused when we see story after story about children getting murdered by their parents?

Finally, I hope that in the past month you all are able to see the parallels between these two stories.  Here you have two men for whom violence appears to be the norm.  I bet if we asked Ray Rice how he feels about Peterson’s situation, he would likely say something like, “I don’t see why it’s a big deal…I mean, my Dad and Mom made me get my own switch before they beat my ass.  I call that discipline.”  Sure Ray, and I bet you also call what happened in the elevator a love tap too right?

Domestic Violence: Our Definitions And A Victim’s Denial

 

Ray Rice and his wife Janay Palmer.  Picture taken from jacksonville.com

Ray Rice and his wife Janay Palmer

 

In the past week, many of you have likely heard a lot about Ray Rice being released from the Baltimore Ravens, and being indefinitely expelled from the NFL.   For those of you who haven’t heard what happened, a video of Rice beating his wife in an elevator forced the NFL to make the call – one that many people have said should have been made some time ago.  I am not going to argue about the NFL, and its domestic violence problem.  I would like to, however, focus on another related issue that is close to my heart.  While Rice has his fair share of haters now, because he is clearly an abusive ass who in my opinion deserved to have his career shattered, his wife is also catching some serious heat.  I would like to describe what happens in a relationship before physical abuse occurs, and why many abuse victims do not believe they have been abused.

What is the scene that comes to mind when you hear about someone who has been a victim of domestic violence?  If you are like I was four years ago, you probably envision a women in a hospital bed with hear face beaten beyond recognition, while her husband explains to the doctor how his klutz of a wife fell down the stairs.  Or maybe you imagine that someone like Ray Rice started beating on his wife after the first date.  While many women suffer at the hands of physical abusers, there are many more who suffer a  discrete and insidious form of domestic violence – emotional abuse.  Often times, it is the less obvious forms of abuse that lead to situations like the elevator beating that occurred at the hands of Rice.

When I first fled my ex’s house (two weeks after my son Prince was born), I refused to believe I had been a victim of domestic violence.  I was proud, and even after of the terrible things he put me through, I didn’t want to admit that I had stayed in an abusive relationship for as long as I had.  I held onto this belief that I hadn’t really been abused for longer than I should have.  It makes me terribly sad when I see other women who have suffered abuse remain in denial.

Through the Eyes of a Child:

It is often hard to assess your life situation while you are deep in the throws of a terrible situation.  Many abused children do not believe they have been abused.  Even though most schools talk about violence, and try to get children to report abuse, it is often hard for a child to see their situation as abusive if it is they have ever known.  For example, I once asked the child of a known abuser if he had been abused by his father.  He said, “no my father was not abusive – he was just strict.”  Upon further questioning about the term “strict”, the child revealed details about how his father had stripped him naked, and put him out in the cold as a form of punishment.  He also mentioned how his father would “spank” him, often leaving bruises.

While this child was uncomfortable with the idea that he had been a victim of child abuse, he didn’t hesitate to explain how afraid he was of his father.  He had spent his entire life being afraid of his father, so this was his normal.  To him, child abuse was not something normal; therefore, he assumed that what he experienced was just a “strict” parent.

Parallels and Revelations:

As I heard this child speak about his experiences with his father, I felt a flood of emotion.  The thought of him not identifying as a child abuse victim seemed crazy, but in that moment I realized that I needed to come to terms with my own abuse history.  How many times do we hear women who say things like, “he is really a great guy, he just gets upset every so often.”  Just because the dude doesn’t punch you in the face, and cause you to have frequent trips to the ER doesn’t mean the abuse you have endured doesn’t reach the threshold of domestic violence.

I give you the following examples, and I ask you to think about whether you would consider these things “abusive”:

Lechery: Does your husband have a problem keeping his man parts in their appropriate place?  Is he that guy at the party who is hitting on the other women in the room right in front of you?  Does he constantly talk to you about how many women think he is attractive?  Any man (or woman) who cheats on their spouse with a complete lack of regard for their emotions (not to mention their health, i.e. STD risk) is an abuser.

Insulting:  Does your partner belittle you in private, or even in public?  If your spouse purposefully says things with the intention of making you feel bad about yourself, this is abusive.

Rages:  Do you feel like you frequently walk on egg shells for fear of being yelled at?  If someone is screaming at you on a regular basis, and you find yourself scared to communicate with this person for fear of being verbally attacked – this is a problem.

These are just a few examples of domestic violence that don’t result in bruises, and likely are gateways to this sort of behavior in the future.  Loads of women could likely identify with the three examples I have included, and they would also identify with remaining in the relationship after such abuse.  While it might be controversial, I argue that Janay’s staunch support of her husband is just another example of what millions of women do on a regular basis.  She is in the throws of an abusive relationship.  The abuse that she is experiencing is seems so obvious to everyone else, but at home Janay has an abuser in her ear explaining away every bruise and pleading for her public support.

Janay’s statement over social media should look alarmingly familiar to those who have experienced domestic violence:

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As I read her post, I could almost imagine Ray standing over her shoulder writing it.

 

It is really easy to feel strong when you don’t have to face that person on a daily basis.  Many people cannot imagine what it is like to be afraid every single day, and wonder how you will get out of the situation.  It is not always easy to walk out that door.

Victim Doesn’t Need to Define You:

One of the reasons I had such a hard admitting to myself that I had experienced an abusive relationship was the fear I had that this would somehow define me.  People often ask me how I have been able to survive the Lifetime-esque life that I have had.  The best advice I can give on that front is that you can choose to not let these things define who you are.  Just because you have been abused, does not mean that you need to remain a victim.  In order to take back your identity, it is important to follow the following steps:

.  Face the reality by admitting to yourself that you are being abused.

.  Get yourself out of the abusive situation

.  Understand how you got there to begin with, so not to repeat the mistake.

So when you read the media reports about this incident, and the others that will likely follow, imagine yourself in this woman’s shoes.  Even if you don’t think it could happen to you, I am living proof that it can.