A few weeks ago, my son and I went to the grocery store. We were doing our usual playing and giggling on the way into the store when my son accidentally stepped on my foot. Realizing what he had done, my baby said immediately, “Sorry, Ma.” I responded with, “Nah, you gon’ pay for that, sucker,” and playfully jacked him up.
Observing the interaction from the front of the store, an older Black man stopped dead in his tracks with his bags of groceries and said, “Shit! I ain’t going nowhere now. I wanna see you jack him up.” He let out a chuckle and I whipped around with a look that spoke for me and replied, “You don’t ever wanna see me do shit to my child. This ain’t no fucking show.”
This weekend, as two videos of Black parents abusing their children crossed my Facebook feed, I thought back to this incident. I mulled over how Black parents degrading, demeaning and terrorizing their Black children on social media is met with jubilation and endorsements of how “these kids gotta learn.” I wrestled with he fact that Black children are the most powerless of the powerless and how Black parents, beaten down by the world, grab fistfuls of the power they are so blatantly denied by the oppressor by reenacting that authoritarian oppression on their children.
I watched a Black man beat his daughter with a belt so viciously that I had to stop the video after his third blow. Her punishment — or torture — didn’t end there as the video cut to the man literally shaving the child bald in the kitchen as she covered her eyes and cried. Her offense: Downloading snapchat and being “fast.”
Then I watched as a father delighted, laughing and cheering, as his toddler daughter’s pacifiers were cut in front of her. The little girl, understandably and predictably distraught over her sources of comfort being destroyed, threw a tantrum. Several adults in the room watched and made jokes because what’s more amusing than tormenting a young child over losing the things that sooth her?
Black parents who share footage of the violence Black people suffer at the hands of the state with captions about how the systemic violence we suffer as a people is heartbreaking and enraging see no irony or hypocrisy in filming themselves violently punishing their children for not respecting their authority. Black parents who shake in fear as cops chastise them during traffic stops, afraid to stand up for their rights to an authority they had no say in selecting, then turn around and violate their children’s rights in the same way and call it “tough love.” Black parents who walk away from altercations with other adults who have disrespected and challenged them because “it’s not worth it,” don’t give the children they claim to love more than anything or anyone else the same consideration for slight infractions.
Too often, Black parenting is based on the premise that if nothing else, we finally have someone to demand respect from at all times. We may be exploited, put down, let down and targeted by the world, but god damnit we have somebody who can’t do that to us. We finally have somebody who we can run.
Who gives a damn if we gotta bite our tongues for eight hours a day as we endure bosses who underestimate and undervalue us because we need that job? Yeah, we may tolerate shit from people who see us as nothing more than cheap labor, but we’ll be damned if our own children can have the humanity we’re denied. Hell, no! If we must shrink for the man, then them kids will shrink for us.
Who cares if our children spend six hours a day in schools that prep them for prison and permanent underclass citizenship where the smallest infraction sees them punished? Regardless of their forced participation in a system that neglects, preys on and purposely undereducated them, they had better not expect to be able to come home to any sense of autonomy, freedom and understanding,. Their bad days are their problem and when they hit that door, they had better remember they are but lowly subjects with a roof over their heads through the grace and mercy of their parents.
Who gives a fuck if our children are faced with a world that offers them nothing – no kindness, no comfort, no do-overs — but the chance to take their place in the caste system that has seen us turned into the brick and mortar of the world, holding it up and supporting it, while being allowed to erode and breakdown until we are replaced by a new foundation destined to live a life mirroring the predecessors? Them fucking kids gonna know their place. We will train them to accept authority without challenge, to understand that their feelings are never more important than the will of those who hold power over them and that any deviation from absolute obedience is to be punished with public humiliation and violence.
THEY’LL LEARN THEIR FUCKING PLACE! And in twenty years, when the children who were not only physically abused but had their abuse memorialized on World Star, You Tube and Facebook for their peers to mock and see, have children of their own, they can exact their revenge on their own children. Then they can defend their violent abuse with classic evidence that they were beaten and turned out “just fine,” because isn’t the goal to raise children who turn out just fine in spite of unrelenting abuse instead of children who turn out to be good people because of nurturing, patience and love?
Centuries later, we’re still willing to beat our chilluns at the whipping post while massa and the others look on because a Black child gotta learn they place in this world. And as we whip blood outta the backs of our own brethren, we rationalize it by convincing ourselves that it’s about teaching them early what they can and cannot do. Yet, never do we take that whip and turn the overseer and the enslaver and start handing them the lashes they earned while our children who didn’t create this circumstance watch us fight our oppressors and learn to punch up.
There’s a scene in my favorite book by favorite author that stuck with me since the first time I read it in 10th grade. In Beloved, after escaping to freedom, Sethe, begins murdering her children when slave catchers arrive to take them back to the plantation she had risked her life to escape. Years later, seeing a man riding up on her home who brings back the image of the slave catcher she’d seen the day she murdered one of her children, Sethe grabs an ice pick and runs for the man determined to kill him instead of her children this time. This time, she will end the oppressor not the oppressed. This time she will visit her rage on the one who has earned it.