As I continue to follow the Adrian Peterson child abuse saga I mull over the many thousand ways that we, as a society, rob little black boys from reaching their full potential as human beings. Most of the seeds of failure are planted before the child reaches adolescence and most of these seeds are planted by the black men under the auspices that they are teaching him some kind of truth.
When I turned five years old (Approximately one year older than Adrian Peterson’s son) my uncles became deeply concerned that I was too “soft”. Apparently I cried too much and enjoyed hanging out with my mother more than a young boy five years of age should. They argued to my mother that I would be starting school soon and even though I was her youngest child she would surely ruin me if she didn’t somehow toughen me up. Eventually she obliged.
Within a few months she put me in karate class with my older brother and older cousins who had already been training for years. The dojo was run by a Vietnam veteran named Poppy who used to get dressed with us and reveal his bullet and stab wounds. “What you looking at!” he growled at me on one occasion after he found me staring at an old stab wound under his rib cage that to me resembled the gill of a fish. Unaccustomed to being yelled at I quickly looked away.
Poppy was a mean dude. If we did anything wrong he would knock us on the crown of our heads really quickly with his knuckles so that it felt like we were bleeding. And he would do this over and over again until we did it right. At the age of five I couldn’t understand why I had to be subjected to such treatment. He didn’t ask us anything politely, he never said sorry, and he spoke most effectively through violence. This was then and always will be my introduction to manhood.
At the age of five I grasped the concept that manhood simply means that ones primary mode of communicating is through violence. This truth was reiterated in the streets, at school, and on the football field as well. To be quite honest it hasn’t been until very recently that I realized I have no idea how to sustain a loving relationship or communicate through the language of faith. All I’ve known is ever-present violence. Most of it is pent-up while some of it gets expressed (primarily in the boxing gym) but it is always there.
I think about Adrian Peterson’s son who I’m sure he loves dearly. As a matter of fact he loves his son so dearly that the only way that he could express it is through beating him with a switch because he wouldn’t sit in his car seat. Somehow Mr. Peterson missed badly and cut the child’s forehead. Ironically enough this all happened a year after Adrian Peterson’s other son was beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend. The reality is that when Adrian Peterson and the man who took his son’s life were young they probably had their burgeoning masculinity molded by abuse. When violence becomes one’s first language then one has no choice but to teach that language to one’s children, which leads to the normalization of one human being, hurting another one to express his emotions. Moreover this mentality ultimately results in a very low rate of healthy relationships and a very high rate of incarceration.
Young black boys are given the tools to destroy themselves essentially at birth. How long will it take before Adrian Peterson’s young son learns that everything his father taught him about being a man is a horrendous lie that will only lead to his destruction? Perhaps, unfortunately, he will learn this lesson far too late.