There is an interesting discussion unfolding in the comments of this post about Shaquanda Cotton, at the Anti-Essentialist Conundrum. Cliff notes: this is a fourteen year old girl, black, with no prior record, who was sentenced to seven years in jail for shoving a hall monitor. And had already served an entire year before her case got any attention outside her hometown.
Others, including Sylvia, have been covering the deep-ingrained societal racism that this case illuminates so starkly. For the moment, I'd like to talk about something separate, if no doubt related: authoritarianism. Which I've talked about before; and which, like so much else, begins--but doesn't end--at home.
So, back at Sylvia's, a commenter has this to say:
Ya’ll stop and think about what you are reading. Shaquanda was/is a troubled child b/c of her mother. The law (Judge, DA, etc)is trying to keep them separated b/c they see its the mother’s influence thats leading her astray. Most of us (black folk) have seen these type situations either in our family or somehow close to us.
7 years is way too long for this assult conviction. But as it reads its UP TO 7 years so she can get out as soon as she learns to behave. The problem is TYC is probably just going to make her harder than she alredy was and when she gets out at 21, she’ll be a true threat to society.
As it stands, who wants a child in their children’s school who feels she can do this to a teacher. If she’ll push a 58 year old teacher today, she’ll stab another student tomorrow or follow thru on her threat to “burn the school down”. This behavior has to be put in check. Where is her dad in all this? Why isn’t he standing up for them? He probably knows what her mother is all about and trying to stay clear.
We’re screaming that this is a racist judge making a racist decision b/c he gave two white kids probation and Shaquanda got 7 years. Did you not read that her mother fought the probation that was offered “would not cooperate” she was on K104 (Dallas Ft.Worth urban radio) saying just that. She says Shaquanda didn’t do anything. Kids pushing kids is one thing, but when they are bold enough to push elderly teachers to the floor, that’s different and it doesn’t happen everyday. This type of behavior has been progressing from her for years, you have to wonder where it would go if left unchecked. In our parents/grandparents day they would have handled this on the spot and it never would have made the news or the court b/c they knew how take care of business and the kids then knew it. Now we got people like you talking about rights of children. Look at where it’s getting most of them.
Bint's response(s) to this is a thing of beauty and worth reading in full; I'm just going to include part here:
Yes, I have read about how her mother would not go along with the probation that was offered. Is there any reason why she should have? If Ms. Brownfield did what she says she did and raised her arm to this child, then Shaquanda had every reason to believe that she was about to get hit and therefore she acted as any normal person might do when they feel that they about to be assaulted.
And when did Ms. Brownsfield become elderly? This woman is 58 years old. My step-father is older than that and he can still climb trees and chop off branches. If she’s really elderly, then why in the world would the school put her in charge of keeping children out of the school in the morning? This isn’t about boldness on the part of Shaquanda. The girl didn’t just walk to some random little old lady and push her down to the ground. This was a case where an adult raised her hand to someone else’s child and then acted surprised when the girl reacted to that.
Furthermore, her behavior was not going unchecked. The child was taking medication for ADHD. Guess who had to bring her to a doctor and get her tested and pay for her prescriptions and keep the school supplied with her medication? Here’s a hint: IT WAS HER MOTHER. You know, that woman that you claim just isn’t willing to believe that Shaquanda has any problems. Tell me, in your mind, through whatever process you are using to evaluate all of this, why you think that her mother was doing all of this if she just didn’t give a damn about the girl’s behavior?
Yeah, I used the word rights. If this teacher had the right to raise her hand towards someone’s child, then the child also had a right to try and prevent being hit. And I don’t know about YOUR children but the ones in my life are doing just great. It isn’t talking about rights that leads to problems for children. The problem (or at least a very significant part of it) is people like you with your uncritical acceptance of every illogical epithet and pathetic cliche that society puts out about kids, especially children of color.
So, but putting the details of that particular case aside, I want to get back to this bit:
In our parents/grandparents day they would have handled this on the spot and it never would have made the news or the court b/c they knew how take care of business and the kids then knew it. Now we got people like you talking about rights of children. Look at where it’s getting most of them.
Here he is alluding to the influence (on contemporary theories of parenting, the self-help industry, and the body politic) of such people as Alice Miller. Here is an example of her thinking:
Children who are given love, respect, understanding, kindness, and warmth will naturally develop different characteristics from those who experience neglect, contempt, violence or abuse, and never have anyone they can turn to for kindness and affection. Such absence of trust and love is a common denominator in the formative years of all the dictators I have studied. The result is that these children will tend to glorify the violence inflicted upon them and later to take advantage of every possible opportunity to exercise such violence, possibly on a gigantic scale. Children learn by imitation. Their bodies do not learn what we try to instill in them by words but what they have experienced physically. Battered, injured children will learn to batter and injure others; sheltered, respected children will learn to respect and protect those weaker than themselves. Children have nothing else to go on but their own experiences.
The well-known American pediatrician Dr. Brazelton once filmed a group of mothers holding and feeding their babies, each in her own particular way. More than 20 years later he repeated the experiment with the women those babies had grown into and who now had babies themselves. Astoundingly, they all held their babies in exactly the same way as they had been held by their mothers, although of course they had no conscious memories from those early years. One of the things Braselton proved with this experiment was that we are influenced in our behavior by our unconscious memories. And those memories can be life affirming and affectionate or traumatic and destructive.
In the 1970s the French gynecologist Fr�d�ric Leboyer demonstrated that babies delivered without physical force and given a loving reception by their immediate environment show no signs of desperate crying or any kind of destructiveness. In fact they will even smile only a few minutes after birth. As long as they are not separated after birth, as was the custom in the 1950s, mother and child will develop a relationship of trust that will have positive repercussions on the entire further course of the children's lives. In the physical presence of her baby, the mother will produce the so-called love hormone (oxytocin) enabling her intuitively to understand the signals emitted by the child and to care for its needs by a process of empathy. These phenomena are described by Michel Odent in his latest book ("The Scientification of Love", London, Free Association, 1999).
Why have these important, groundbreaking insights on human nature failed to penetrate into the awareness of the public at large? True, the works of Leboyer have changed the face of birthing practices. But the philosophical, sociological, psychological, and ultimately theological implications of his discovery of the innocent newborn do not appear to have left any mark on society as a whole. We can see this in many areas: in schools, the penal system, and politics. All these areas are dominated by the notion that punishment - and notably the corporal punishment that goes by the name of "correction" - is effective and harmless. There is little awareness of the fact that physical punishment actually creates the evil that we later try - more or less ineffectually - to banish by inflicting more of the same...
As you can see, this represents a rather different worldview from that expressed by, for example, Ray "Cold" Comfort, partner of child-star-turned-fundamentalist-preacher Kirk Cameron and co-author of a website where he produces such gems as:
What a Lovely Child
...It is a tragedy when ugly doings are seen as cute. One of the first horrible things to reveal itself in a child is the back-arch. This often happens when the parent uses the word "No" and stops the child from touching something he wanted to touch. Mom or dad then picks up the precious bundle, and instead of finding cuddly cuteness, they find the back-arch of protest.
This is the first sign of infantile rebellion against parental authority, and if it isn't dealt with, this seed will grow into a monster and destroy everything in its path.
...Understandably, no parent likes to think that their beloved child is evil, just as parents of newborns would reject any thought that their baby is ugly. However, when a youth stretches his wings, and gets away from the prodigal father's eye, sin is given full reign. You just have to listen to the average teenager talk to see that the testimony of God is true when it says "their throat is an open sepulcher," and that "their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." Perhaps you could never see the little child in your arms as "having feet that are swift to shed innocent blood," but the potential to do so is there. Godless kids love violent movies and sadistic video games. They don't see the blood-thirsty murder of another human being as being something that is horrific. Rather, it is something to be enjoyed. It gives an adrenalin rush. This is why you must introduce the "monster-slayer." You must get rid of the fiend at an early age.
Don't look to a supposed goodness in the heart of your child for a restraint against evil. Man's goodness is a cracked dam. The weight of sin cannot be restrained. It is common for the mother of a vicious murderer to say that her teenage son was actually a good boy. Such loyalty comes from godless reasoning. It comes from the thought that there is good in everyone. That seems to hold true until you define the word "good." It means to be morally excellent. It means to be perfect in thought, word and in deed. It means to love God with all of our heart and to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. In that case, Jesus was right. There is none good but God. So, reject the world's philosophy, and instead embrace the biblical viewpoint. Again, God's Word says that there is none good. Not one. Your child isn't good. He is like the rest of us. His heart is evil. Face the ugliness.
Don't wait until you have a Jeffery Dahmer on your hands before you use the word "evil." That monster murdered and cannibalized seventeen people, but his background is no different than that of most children. He himself said, "When I was just a little kid I was just like anybody else."* However, when, as a child he began showing cruelty to animals (something common in human nature), the monster wasn't restrained. So it is up to you to understand that the first back-arch isn't cute. It's ugly. It is the beginning of rebellion. You must deal with it by cultivating the restraint of the fear of the Lord in his life...
If you want to see this philosophy of parenthood made concrete and contemporary (you'll find plenty if you go back to "our parents/grandparents' day" without even trying), by the way, you can take a gander at the Babywise/Ezzo discipline:
After babies reach only 6 months of age, parents are instructed to begin punitive disciplinary measures such as "squeezing or swatting" of the child's hands or "isolation" in the crib for "rebellious" infractions including "foolishness," "malicious defiance" or even playing with food on the highchair tray. Ezzo explains to parents that the use of "pain" and "discomfort" can be essential disciplinary tools. After age 2 and a half, children who have a toileting accident are required to clean themselves up.
Despite the plethora of respected research demonstrating the critical importance of early parent-child attachment, "Babywise" breezily dismisses this concept as little more than self-indulgent psychobabble. Thus, parents are told that they can actually harm a child by too much rocking or holding and that they should, at all costs, avoid "emotionalism" in responding to a baby's cries lest parents be held "in bondage" to the child.
"Of course you can harm a baby by picking him or her up too much," asserts Ezzo.
...Scott notes that, depending on a child's individual temperament, Ezzo's recommendations appear to either work brilliantly -- meaning that the child essentially gives up and stops protesting completely -- or leave parents incredibly frustrated as to why, no matter how many times they "swat" the baby, she still won't use good "highchair manners."
Author and lactation consultant Huggins agrees, observing that parents who read "Babywise" may believe that they are experiencing success with the program when in fact, the opposite is true. "What Ezzo is saying 'works' in that many babies do eventually stop crying as they become resigned to taking only small amounts of milk. In that way, you could say it works," says Huggins.
In interview after interview with families who are using "Babywise," parents spoke of their sincere desire to produce "obedient," "respectful" children. Rarely did these parents mention a hope to produce emotionally healthy adults. Overwhelmingly, "Babywise" parents accepted without question the conventional wisdom that "kids today" are out of control. Faced with the onslaught of media images of rampaging middle-schoolers and wilding teens, these parents believe that by cracking down on what Ezzo defines as infant rebellion now, they will prevent problems later.
"I have no intention of raising an out-of-control child, " says Franklin Stout, a 32-year-old father of two who is implementing "Babywise" methods with his young children. "My wife and I like having a guide to help us know how to respond to our sons' different behaviors. We believe that firm discipline in the first year or two will save us all a lot of grief later."
..."Telling parents that there is one simple way to get kids to behave is, well, let's just put it like this: This type of parenting is part of this whole swing to the right all over the country," says pediatrician and Harvard professor T. Berry Brazelton, known to millions of American parents and grandparents as the author of "Touchpoints" (Addison-Wesley) and numerous other bestselling books on parenting and child development. "I feel bad for young parents who are being told that if they follow this program or that program, they won't have problems. You have to look below the surface to see what's going on with each individual family."
After reviewing "Babywise," noted social historian Stephanie Coontz, author of "The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap" and "The Way We Really Are: Coming to Terms With America's Changing Families" (Basic Books), says that she is able to understand how some parents are drawn to Ezzo's advice. "The way this book has been hyped speaks to real dilemmas faced by parents today," says Coontz. "Unfortunately, this book may give the wrong answers. The book provides solutions to real problems that are at least as bad as the real problems themselves."
..."Parenting like this shows very little respect for children," says pediatrician Brazelton. "It's very adultamorphic and not sensitive to the baby. Although parents should gently set limits, punitive discipline for very young children and babies is repressive and can quash exploration and excitement in the first two years of life. It will be interesting to see some follow up on these kids in later years. I suspect that they'll have a lot of inner rebellion."
Don and Jeanne Elium, family therapists and authors of the books "Raising a Son," "Raising a Daughter" and the new "Raising a Family: Living on Planet Parenthood" (Celestial Arts), concur with Brazelton that the discipline practices promoted by Ezzo are neither age-appropriate nor effective in the long run.
"All isolating a baby or young toddler teaches them is that the world is not a safe place to be in," says Don Elium. "Let a baby be a baby so that she can be an adult when it's time to be an adult."
"Leaving a baby alone to cry in order to punish or to train them to sleep can create a sense of rage that comes from abandonment and hopelessness," agrees Jeanne Elium. "These children will probably pay an expensive price in therapy later..."
And here we come to the crux of it: how completely backasswards the whole thing is. Essentially, the child is being asked to have more control over hirself than the adult. And to accept abuse that would be considered an outrage were an adult to do it to another adult (well, all other things being equal, which of course they often aren't; nonetheless). Which pretty much goes against everything we understand about human development, those of us who've come out of the Dark Ages, at least.
And then the child grows up; and guess what happens to all that pent-up rage, frustration, terror, grief, unmet needs? Well, oftentimes sie simply turns it in on hirself. Depression, rage, various ways dramatic and subtle of putting oneself down and out--because, the adult kid is a decent person, doesn't want to do unto others what was done unto hir, is horrified by the prospect of becoming like the abuser...and at the same time, too, the implications of accepting exactly how things really went down are primally scary. back to Alice Miller again:
These letters are almost always written from the perspective of the parents, parents who were totally unable to bear, let alone love, their children. The children's perspective finds no expression whatsoever, except in the sufferings of the adults they have become, the physical symptoms, the bouts of depression, the thoughts of suicide, the crippling feelings of guilt. The writers of these letters constantly insist that they were never abused as children, that the only physical "correction" they received was occasional slap of no consequence at all, or a kick or two they had richly deserved because they sometimes behaved abominably and got on their parents' nerves. I am frequently assured that deep down these people were loved by their fathers and mothers, and if they were cruelly treated from time to time it was because things just got too much for their parents, who were unhappy, depressed, uninformed, or possibly even alcoholics, and all because they themselves had been deprived of love when they were young. So it is hardly surprising that these parents were quick to lose their tempers and take their unhappiness and resentment out on their children. Such behavior is readily understandable. The dearest wish of these children was to help their parents, because they loved them and felt sorry for them. But however hard they tried, they never managed to free them from their depression and make them happy.
The tormenting feelings of guilt triggered by this failure are unrelenting and implacable. What have I done wrong? These people ask themselves. Why have I failed to free my parents from their misery? I try the best I can. And it's the same with my therapists. They tell me to enjoy the good things in life, but I can't, and that makes me feel guilty too. They tell me to grow up, to stop seeing myself as a victim; my childhood is a thing of the past, I should turn over a new leaf and stop agonizing. They tell me not to put the blame on others; otherwise my hatred will kill me. I should forgive and forget, and live in the present; otherwise I'll turn into a "borderline patient," whatever that is. But how can I do that? Of course I don't want to put the blame on my parents, I love them, and I owe my life to them...
...How can people love themselves if the message that they were not worth loving was drummed into them at an early stage? If they were beaten black and blue to make them into a different person? If they had it impressed on them that they were a nuisance to their parents, and that nothing in the world would ever change their parents' dislike and anger? They will believe that they are the cause of this hatred, though that is simply not true. They feel guilty, they try to become a better person, but this can never succeed because the parents take out on their own children the rage they had to suppress and hold back in their dealings with their own parents. The child was merely the butt of this rage.
Once we have realized this, we stop waiting for the love of our parents, and we know why it will never materialize. Only then can we allow ourselves to see how we were treated as children and to feel how we suffered as a result. Instead of understanding and commiserating with our parents, instead of blaming ourselves, we start taking sides with the abused child we once were...
But other times? When sie has what's called in psych parlance an "external locus of control?" That's wight, wabbit. Sie turns around and inflicts the abuse--yep, that word--on hir own kids, and calls it "discipline" or "the way things ought to be."
Or--sie might or might not have kids. And instead/in addition sie becomes, o I don't know, a police officer, or a teacher. Or a preacher. Or a politician. Or a talking head. Or a filmmaker. Or a judge.
The personal, indeed, is political.
And so we come back full circle to Shaquanda Cotton. And yes, institutionalized racism is very much an enormous part of this. Separate from what family-level, intimate abuse and even what Miller calls "poisonous pedagogy," perhaps...and yet, not unrelated.
Because the authoritarianism, and particularly right-wing authoritarianism is the common denominator:
The current study investigated the relations among fundamentalism, authoritarianism, homosexual bias, and racist attitudes. Thirty men and 90 women from a small midwestern university participated. Results indicated a positive correlation among the 4 bias variables: fundamentalism, authoritarianism, homosexual discrimination, and racism. Fundamentalism was positively correlated with authoritarianism, which in turn was positively correlated with racism and homosexual prejudice. ANOVAs of sex and religious denomination (conservative and moderate) found sex nonsignificant with regard to the 4 bias variables. Significant differences of denominational category were found for authoritarianism and homosexual prejudice within the conservative denominational category. Religious self-ratings and church attendance were positively correlated with all bias variables except racism. Results support the previous research of the fundamentalism-authoritarianism-racism relationship. Authoritarian tendency and selectivity bias are discussed as possible explanations for these results.
Right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) is a psychological personality variable or "ideological attitude".
It is defined as the convergence of three attitudinal clusters in an individual:
1. Authoritarian submission — a high degree of submission to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the society in which one lives. "It is good to have a strong authoritarian leader."
2. Authoritarian aggression — a general aggressiveness, directed against various persons, that is perceived to be sanctioned by established authorities. "It is acceptable to be cruel to those who do not follow the rules."
3. Conventionalism — a high degree of adherence to the social conventions that are perceived to be endorsed by society and its established authorities. "Traditional ways are best."
and thus is it that one can see the convergence of all these factors in sentiments such as the one expressed by yet another commenter back at the Anti-Essentialist Conundrum thread:
unknown Mar 26th, 2007 at 5:53 pm
To Shaquanda Cotton,
I am so glad to see you get the support and attention that you need. Too bad you did not have that the first 14 years of your life. Maybe some of these people will come to Paris and try to do the same for the rest of your family. Maybe they can provide a place for people like you and your siblings so you can get the help you all deserve. Let them pray that they can find positive activities, besides getting high on the front porch or feeling that you need to be with any guy that shows you the lest bit of attention. I really hope you can bring yourself to ask God to help you in times of you and your family needs, and please don’t forget to ask him for the wisdom you need to get through this. I too will have this entire town in my prayers.
As commenter Taceo notes in response,
It is that mindset that gets situations like the one at hand.