Many people are shocked and disgusted by the alleged abuse Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson inflicted on his 4-year-old son. He's been indicted in Montgomery, Texas, for reckless and negligent injury to a child because he whupped his son's backside with a switch, leaving the boy with open wounds and large welts on the back of his legs. But before he's convicted in the court of public opinion, folks need to understand how Peterson was raised.
I don't know many African-Americans who grew up without ever being disciplined with a switch or a belt. Peterson's own mother, Bonita Jackson, admitted in a recent interview with the Houston Chronicle that she was a tough parent. "Most of us disciplined our kids a little more than we meant sometimes," she said. "But we were only trying to prepare them for the real world."
I grew up in a household with four brothers. We all got our butts whupped when we acted up or disrespected our parents. The switch and the belt were used many times. Guess what? We turned out OK. One of my brothers became a Navy pilot. Another became a physics professor. All of my siblings finished college. I went on to have a successful entertainment career.
Once, when I was a teenager, I sassed my mother after she asked me to open a bathroom window to let out the steam from the shower. At the time, she was on crutches from a leg injury. As soon as I snapped at her, she bopped me upside the head with one of her crutches. After that, I always thought twice before talking back to her.
Back in the day, you would even get the paddle at school. Time-out doesn't work in the African-American community. If kids were disrespectful, got suspended from school, or were caught stealing, they got the belt as soon as dad got home. Corporal punishment kept us on the straight-and-narrow path.
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But by the time I became a father, laws had changed and I had to adapt. I never hit any of my four children, but that doesn't mean I put up with bad behavior. When one of my daughters moved in with me, she thought she could get away with not going to school and being disrespectful. She left me no choice but to send her back to her mother.
Corporal punishment is a cultural norm in the black community based on their Christian beliefs. They take to heart biblical passages like Proverbs 13:24: "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him." They use a switch to inflict enough physical pain so a child thinks twice about behaving badly, but it is not done with malice.
People may find this abhorrent, but Peterson can use freedom of religion as a defense. His lawyer will put the Bible on the stand. And in a Bible Belt state like Texas, it will be difficult to find a jury that convicts him.