Abuse or discipline: Peterson case spurs cultural debate

WASHINGTON – An advocate against child abuse tells WTOP that the African- American community has to talk honestly about the use of corporal punishment to discipline children and no longer wear the practice “like a badge of honor.”

Stacey Patton, author of a memoir about her own upbringing and life in the foster care system, says that thanks to comments by Charles Barkley this weekend and the felony child injury charge against Adrian Peterson that honest conversation is now happening.

“I think within African-American culture, we don’t even have a working definition of what abuse is vs. spanking,” she says.

The charges against Peterson mirror police reports from across the country that depict children stripped naked, whipped with belts or cords or other objects. Those parents don’t consider it abuse, they consider it training or discipline, a good “whooping,” she says.

Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, Patton says she was whipped with belts, extension cords and switches. “I ended up in foster care because of it.”

But she rarely heard opposition to such corporal punishment. Not beating your children was considered a “white thing,” she says.

Parents today might justify hitting their children by saying they are training them, protecting them, just like their own parents did to them. But it demonstrates a lack of understanding among parents of developmental behaviors, Patton says.

That adults today can’t remember the fear, pain and trauma of being whipped, she says, is evidence of brain damage.

“With African-Americans, they are dishonest when they say ‘they turned out fine.’ Because they don’t want to be disrespectful to our culture, to our mothers and grandmothers and other relatives who reared us this way,” Patton says.

But the black community doesn’t hold a monopoly on physical punishment as most Americans believe in or have used corporal punishment on their own children, she says.

“I think we have a much louder celebration of the practice. We tend to defend it fervently,” she says.

Still, she sees progress.

“I thank Charles Barkley for being honest, as flawed as his reasoning is, because it’s an honest dialogue. And more people are raising their voices to say ‘This is wrong’.”

Watch Barkley’s conversation with Jim Rome on CBS Sports “NFL Today” from Sunday below.

Related Stories:

Follow @WTOP on Twitter and on Facebook.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up