Yet secular black culture thrives on colorful stories of punishment that are passed along as myths of ancient wisdom — a type of moral glue that holds together varying communities in black life across time and circumstance. Black comedians cut their teeth on dramatically recalling “whoopings” with belts, switches, extension cords, hairbrushes or whatever implement was at hand. Even as genial a comic as Bill Cosby offered a riff in his legendary 1983 routine that left no doubt about the deadly threat of black punishment. “My father established our relationship when I was 7 years old,” Mr. Cosby joked. “He looked at me and says, ‘You know, I brought you in this world, I’ll take you out. And it don’t make no difference to me, cause I’ll make another one look just like you.’ ”
The humor is blunted when we recall that Marvin Gaye’s life ended violently in 1984 at the hands of his father, a minister who brutalized him mercilessly as a child before shooting him to death in a chilling echo of Mr. Cosby’s words.
Perhaps comedians make us laugh to keep us from crying, but no humor can mask the suffering that studies say our children endure when they are beaten: 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 behavior.
Equally tragic is that those who are beaten become beaters too. And many black folks are reluctant to seek therapy for their troubles because they may be seen as spiritually or mentally weak. The pathology of beatings festers in the psychic wounds of black people that often go untreated in silence.
Powerful op-ed by Michael Eric Dyson in the NYTimes, with an interesting dive into the etymology of the word “discipline.”
Many believers — including Mr. Peterson, a vocal Christian — have confused the correction of children’s behavior with corporal punishment. The word “discipline” comes from the Latin “discipuli,” which means student or disciple, suggesting a teacher-pupil relationship. Punishment comes from the Greek word “poine” and its Latin derivative “poena,” which mean revenge, and form the root words of pain, penalty and penitentiary.
The point of discipline is to transmit values to children. The purpose of punishment is to coerce compliance and secure control, and failing that, to inflict pain as a form of revenge, a realm the Bible says belongs to God alone.
The word discipline is a fascinating one. On the one hand, it comes loaded with dark undertones when used in the modern sense of that which enforces order. “Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.” As in "disciplining a child."
If we speak of the child as a "disciple" then the education of that child sounds much less ominous. Discipline and disciple, both nouns, separated by just three letters, yet the difference in meaning is a chasm one needs a suspension bridge to cross.
Discipline can be just as positive a term when used to describe a type of self-control that a person possesses. A person with “discipline” is thought of as someone with persistence, a strong work ethic, mental fortitude, the ability to resist distraction and temptation.
It's in the transfer of discipline from one person to another that we wander into a twisted etymological maze.
Brittney Cooper penned a good and related piece in Salon on the differences between black and white child-rearing.
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.
For black children, finding disciplinary methods that instill a healthy sense of fear in a world that is exceptionally violent toward them is a hard balance to find.
The thing is, though: Beating, whupping or spanking your children will not protect them from state violence. It won’t keep them out of prison. Ruling homes and children with an iron fist will not restore the dignity and respect that the outside world fails to confer on adult black people.
What these actions might do is curtail creativity, inculcate a narrative about “acceptable” forms of violence enacted against black bodies, and breed fear and resentment between parents and children that far outlasts childhood.
Violence in any form is not love. Let us make sure first to learn that lesson. And then if we do nothing else, let us teach it to our children.
By the way, by whatever measure, the NFL is having a rough year. Beyond all the high profile domestic violence cases, I was surprised at how quickly the NFL has turned about face and admitted that its sport is causing severe brain damage to roughly a third of its participants.
The National Football League, which for years disputed evidence that its players had a high rate of severe brain damage, has stated in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at “notably younger ages” than in the general population.
The findings are a result of data prepared by actuaries hired by the league and provided to the United States District Court judge presiding over the settlement between the N.F.L. and 5,000 former players who sued the league, alleging that it had hidden the dangers of concussions from them.
“Thus, our assumptions result in prevalence rates by age group that are materially higher than those expected in the general population,” said the report, prepared by the Segal Group for the N.F.L. “Furthermore, the model forecasts that players will develop these diagnoses at notably younger ages than the generation population.”
We won't see the effects immediately, but perhaps we're at an inflection point for the NFL and the sport of football. We may not see immediate declines in the sport's popularity, it is a secular religion in America, a Sunday ritual deeply embedded in the lives of so many fans. But I have to imagine we'll see a decline in youth participation in football given the clear health risks.