Frenemies



Child abuse doesn’t get talked about much by progressives these days—the prevalence of it, especially. When we hear of abuse against a single women, the story is usually expanded so that it illustrates how women in general have been suffering. When we hear of abuse against a minority, the same. But when we hear of a horrid case of child abuse we rarely are encouraged to think of its prevalence. Instead, we row against the perpetrator. Or, if it’s one of those women driving all of her children into a lake, balk back from it exploring it entirely—no thanks! But the case of Adrian Peterson was different. It was going along its normal route—how dare he, stuffing leaves into his child’s mouth and then beating him bloody with a belt! Destroy the beast! But then something unexpected occurred. This story of child abuse got innocently expanded, and you could feel in its brief flash of a full expose of the nature of childrearing across a broad swath of Americans, not what occurs when the prevalence of discrimination and women-hate gets exposed but its opposite: every white progressive drew back and cringed

Charles Barkley said that you have to be careful about what in particular you’re getting mad about concerning Peterson, because if it’s simply the spanking and the beating, well, all black parents in the South do that, and you’re not trying to say that they're all child abusers, are you? The black American scholar, Brittney Cooper, at Salon.com, wants black parents to stop doing this to their children, but also agreed that this is standard practice amongst the black community. But the thing is, I guarantee you, that many progressives at some level know that if the expose was how many white parents in backwater communities spank and terrorize their kids, they would indeed have IDed them simply as abhorrent child abusers. The rationalizations provided for its legitimacy—even from those abused themselves—would have been cast aside as delusions, what you expect from abusers or people caught within a community of abuse. But since not agreeing with Cooper’s explanation for why black parents beat their children would mean IDing a group they want to see as dignified as as mongrel as poor white trash, as as dismaying as those who seem to have abandoned all other life ambitions other than decrying every bright spot of progress still appearing in our world, white progressives had to agree with everything Cooper said. 

So when she described how it was all done out of calculation, that if they could they would of course not spanked but since the behaviour—acting freely, holding yourself in esteem—that resulted from not being spanked meant real trouble for a black person in a white world, they had to protect their children by teaching them freedom-stilling fear from their parents, they agreed. When she describes the beatings she herself experienced, conveying in her descriptions her fear but also ample sign she knew her mother and grandmother were doing this out of love, they nodded that this was how it must have been. So when she describes her “fond” memories of “that big tree that grew in my grandmother’s yard, with branches that were the perfect size for switches,” when she describes her “hear[ing] her [grandmother’s] booming and shrill voice […], commanding, ‘Go and pick a switch,’” they agreed that she thought fondly of that tree and that she “laughed” when she “remember[ed] that she cut that tree down once [they] were all past the age of switches.” When she thinks in general of “the centuries of imminent fear that had shaped and contoured African-American working-class cultures of discipline, the sternest of our mothers’ and grandmothers’ looks, the firmness of the belts and switches applied to our hind parts, the rhythmic, loving, painful scoldings accompanying spankings as if the messages could be imprinted on our bodies with a sure and swift and repetitive show of force,” they agreed that there was something else in these mothers’ and grandmothers’ eyes other than terrifying sternness, something more benign, and accepted her story that the scoldings were offered lovingly. When they heard her tell of how violent punishment was considered a “mark of good parenting,” of how in her “childhood, parents who ‘thought their children were too good to be spanked’ were looked upon with derision,” of her telling them she remembers “hearing everyone from preachers to comedians lament the passing of days when a child would do something wrong at a neighbour’s house, get spanked by that neighbour, and then come home and get spanked again for daring to misbehave at someone else’s house,” they accepted that this was done for the reason Cooper argues—out of misguided good faith that what they were doing was showing “a strong black community […] in which children are so loved and cared for that everyone has a stake in making sure that those children turn out well, and ‘know how to act.’” They accepted that these “violent modes of discipline” were done with absolute “loving intent and sincerity.” 

Given the fact that many of those agreeing with her still have some prominent portion of their reigned-in subconsciouses screaming in unabashed horror at the idea of a child picking her own beating switch (kiss the rod that beats you), and of neighbours rejoicing in their jostling their “bad” children between houses to be spanked, they were desperately relieved to hear that Cooper does not ultimately believe that this lovingly meant infliction should be maintained. Thank god! she still argues that physical violence is nevertheless corrosive, breeds fear between parent and child, and needs to be done away with. With that, with them imagining black leaders like herself explaining their brothers and sisters—who were ignorant that their childrearing ways were no longer necessary for very understandable reasons—into a better way of raising their children, they can cast them back again as simply the spiritually strong who have weathered centuries of sadistic white abuse, and continue full-on on their own attack on their demonic racist oppressors. They can get back to their relatively dissonance-free—we've-got-major-obstacles-but-at-least-we-see-things-crystal-clear—progressive business as usual. 

I am of course suggesting that they do differently, that they think a bit more about the implications of the childrearing of many of the groups they have mostly simply been triumphant about. The reason is that I do not believe that the fundamental conflict in our society is between people of different races or colours but between those of differing childhoods—between those who were genuinely loved and those who were only conditionally loved by their very needy, loved-denied caregivers. I know this means assigning a good number of people who are victims of white racism in the same grouping with their white oppressors, which seems heinous, and that it’ll make many progressives look as if they’ve encouraged and supported people who’ll try and devour them, which makes them seem insultingly naive. But being true, it is not to be shied away from. And if any of them were uncomfortable enough with what they'd been forced to understand about black childrearing that they understand that at some point this will still have to be explored some, if I have any of their perked attentions/consciences, I would encourage them to try and allow some challenge to the shield Cooper puts up to protect the idea that the widespread beating of children within the black community is something different from simple child abuse—namely, that it unerringly done with the nature of the fate of the child within a racist culture in mind. 

I would firstly encourage them to realize that with vicious physical beatings is how slave-owning people themselves raised their children. It was understood that God would ultimately sit judge over their children’s lives, so they would need to show themselves as disciplined. I would encourage them to realize that historically all practices such as infanticide, sexual use of children, child abandonment to monasteries, tight swaddling, has been rationalized by the adults afflicting these practices as necessary for their children or for the necessity of their society. I would encourage them to understand themselves as different from the historians who used to study children’s history and never swayed from believing that these practices were necessary or that they benefited children, and closer to those who saw something perverse, but judged it as arising owing to good people innocently living within a flawed ethical system ultimately serving only the powerful. And I ultimately would encourage them to distance themselves even from them, and see themselves as part of a fresh generation that, owing to having been better raised, given more love, would now if they were to do the work of explore the primary data, see themselves as similar only to that lonely camp of psychohistorians that simply have found no way of agreeing that parents inflicting tortures upon children invariably loved their children, or that they could possibly have been mislead into doing so. I would encourage them to imagine themselves those who just know that anyone who inflicts these tortures upon their children simply had children for very different reasons that they themselves will or do. 

People who beat their children are mostly unloved human beings. They had children because they needed them. Not primarily for economic reasons but for anxiety-reducing reasons, and to gain the attendance and love they’d been denied by their own parents. Children could serve as a “toilet” for adult projections. They contain all the parents’ “dangerous, evil projections,” all their own “unacceptable feelings” (Lloyd DeMause, Foundations 11). They were supposed to attend to them and submit themselves to sensual use, anything that suited the pleasure of the parent. When they focused on themselves, the parents would understand them as deliberately abandoning them, just like their own parents did, whose role as caregivers these children were born to serve. They would recognize their own childhood need to individuate and grow in their children’s efforts, and the consideration of it would draw them to fuse with angry parental alters in their heads, so that they would immediately lose the conscious state which might involve empathy and fuse into one that knew only anger, hatred and revenge. And the reason they would bond with the perpetrator is that their early brains had to lock down on the idea that their parents were right to abuse them, and that what they had been trying to do—to focus on themselves, to grow, to be free—was appallingly bad, the worst of sins. Their early brains had to do this, otherwise their conscious portion would be forced into the position of knowing their parents were appalling tyrants, which would surely be noticed and result in doom. 

People who have had destructive childhoods are dangerous to progressives for a couple of reasons. For one, their brains are different: they are less empathic. Their prefrontal cortices will be smaller and their fear-centred amygdala much larger. They’ll have high levels of “acting-out” neurotransmitters and a depletion of calming serotonin. Their insulas, the "deep area of the cortex that contains most of the ‘mirror neurons,’” will be damaged, limiting their ability to “empathize [with] the emotional states of others” (Lloyd DeMause, Origins of War 55). They are in short wired to be hyperactive, all flight or fight, and to not notice your suffering. Secondly, they are built to gauge societal growth as sinful—it empowers individuals to become “bad children” who are satisfying their own needs rather than their parents’. They are built to be people who’ll sacrifice their own lives to stop “you” from being someone who can make life about empowerment and enjoyment. They won’t envy you, for when they see you as the enemy they’ll be switched into their parental alters and'll simply be seeing you as the traitorous abandoning child gloating in her self-indulgent pleasures. Even if there's still a "peak" of child left in them, you'll still be the unenviable devil ... for no one such as you can't be permanently removed now from any chance of claiming parental approval and love. 

Brittney Cooper is mistaken about her childhood. Her mother and grandmother did not teach her to be wary of freedom because it would draw trouble from whites. One knows this by how else she has been acting other than her praiseworthy concern to encourage black parents to stop beating their children. She is showing signs of being someone who is feeling hopelessly abandoned by her parents--who reside in her head permanently as alters to monitor and judge her. And as a defensive measure, is fusing back with her battering origins.

After having supported Barack Obama, cheering him on for what he represented—self-accomplishment with the white system; a penultimate symbol of becoming "bigger and better"—she has now rejected him harshly, calling him a "useless cymbal." She’s pledged herself to elders of the sort she had long-ignored, that “used to chafe her hide," claiming them "right all along." She aims to shorn herself of her individuality and become part of a collective black body—a collective “we” bent on triumphing over a corrupt societal system. She wants to purge herself of her “mediocre” self, the self that functioned ably and became wonderfully enfranchised within the white system, something that occurs by putting herself on the front lines, ready, eager to sacrifice her life in battle. And she wants a war, nothing short of it, against all white supremacists. 

The war she craves against supremacists will enable revenge against her own early childhood abusers, her mother and grandmother, so it’ll happen. And the “triumph” she insists upon will be sufficient to the damage incurred—which could only be described accurately, without distortions, when it can be cast upon oppressors split apart from their actual source … upon people she now feels comparatively little fear if they know her level of hate. So when she describes how “[h]umans can only be sucker punched for so long. Humans can only have the life choked out of us for so long. Humans can only be kicked in the stomach while your foot is on our neck for so long. Humans can only be bullied for so long.” she is delineating in specific detail all the sorts of physical torture that of course went along with the repeated beatings in her childhood. When she describes how “[t]he disproportionate amount of heart disease, cancers, hypertension, obesity, violence and other maladies that black black people is as much a product of internalized, unrecognized, unaddressed rage as anything else,” she is listing what else other than an un-ideal child-parent relationship that arises from a tragically abusive childhood. When she talks about “[t]hat inability to see black people as human, as vulnerable, as children, as people worthy of protecting,” she is decrying the criminal blindness of her mother and grandmother, setting them up as fundamentally hurtful; people who in face of innocence and stark need mostly just didn’t care at all. And when she means to confront them with the “possibility of charred, burning, white flesh. No more water. The fire next time.”--the matricide and patricide she's encouraged--she shows just how much rage her mother and grandmother’s negligence has lead to.

But her decision to go to war was instigated out of retreat, out of a need to sacrifice her "selfish" self-accomplished life and recommit to her mother and grandmother, so her primary opponents will be those who most represent what they hated about her, what drew them to want to beat her. They will be those, that is, who most represent self-empowering freedom. Since white supremacists are those whose parents were terribly neglectful, producing the hate, the rage … producing the need to project one’s own unwanted qualities onto another group for persecution, they’re rather far from being that. In fact, if you compared their childhoods with those of black americans,’ you’ll find a lot of similarities—a lot of physical beatings, a lot of parents proud of beating their children, admirably proclaiming how it spared them worse harm. 

True, there is something of the truant, the run-amock child one might rightly imagine as not uncommon in white supremacist families, in the description of child behavior that initiated her consideration of black childrearing. But I assure you that when you read this bit: 

In college, I once found myself on the D.C. metro with one of my favorite professors. As we were riding, a young white child began to climb on the seats and hang from the bars of the train. His mother never moved to restrain him. But I began to see the very familiar, strained looks of disdain and dismay on the countenances of the mostly black passengers. They exchanged eye contact with one another, dispositions tight with annoyance at the audacity of this white child, but mostly at the refusal of his mother to act as a disciplinarian. I, too, was appalled. I thought, if that were my child, I would snatch him down and tell him to sit his little behind in a seat immediately. My professor took the opportunity to teach: “Do you see how this child feels the prerogative to roam freely in this train, unhindered by rules or regulations or propriety?”

“Yes,” I nodded. “What kinds of messages do you think are being communicated to him right now about how he should move through the world?”

And I began to understand, quite starkly, in that moment, the freedom that white children have to see the world as a place that they can explore, a place in which they can sit, or stand, or climb at will. The world, they are learning, is theirs for the taking.

in order to get at what specific sort of behaviour alarmed her, you should not be thinking of a wildling child of a neglectful parent but of the audacious child who does not reign in her opinions and behaviour simply because authority wills it. You should be thinking of the child of parents whose own needs had been well-enough met that they were able to focus most of their time on those of their children’s, and who weren’t threatened but truly delighted by their children’s individuation. You should be thinking of society’s most progressive members, of whatever colour, who advocate the empowerment of children and who believe that children are intrinsically good and can be trusted to explore and improve upon the world around them. These are the people who embody freedom of a kind that would draw Brittney to dream of the "luxury" of imitating it (and which to some extent she lived out, however much it lead to the strait she is in now), not the truant, and which would have drawn her unloved mother and grandmother to see as a spoiled child who was going to selfishly focus on her own needs and abandon any interest in satisfying their own. These are the ones who, if they’d done the same as their children, would have been “swifty[ly] […] ushered […] into a seat, with firm looks and not a little scolding, the implied if unspoken threat of either a grounding or a whupping, if her request were not immediately met with compliance.”  These are the ones who would have been corrected, with "discipline imprinted in their skin." 

I’m suggesting that there will be a union of sorts between all those whose childrearing will not permit them to enjoy any further personal growth. And this will mean a reworking of frameworks, which’ll begin with those ill-placed amongst those of far more permissive childrearing admitting more and more similarities between themselves and their supposed cultural enemies, the conservatives. We’ll see more of these sorts of comments from Cooper: 

Still, one of the things that liberal people of color whisper to other liberal people of color when no one else is listening is that white liberals can be worse than white conservatives.  Between the paternalism, the #whitesplaining and the refusal to accept that acknowledging racism and supporting civil rights does not mean that you have done the deeper structural and psychic work of disengaging from white supremacy, sometimes white liberal people who seem like friends turn out to be enemies. Or maybe frenemies.

where white conquistadorial instinct seems to reside almost primarily in white progressives, since, like  liberal people of color, white conservatives too will be trying to show how spare they are willing to live, how self-inflicting, how self-sacrificial they are willing to become, rather than how expansively and limitlessly. Phrases like this one: 

Grappling with that kind of inelegant, heavy-handed, seemingly exclusionary (and “racist”) understanding of knowledge systems can be difficult for white people, because the myth of universalism, backed up by histories of pillaging and conquest, make it easy to believe that there is nothing beyond the reach of the white gaze. But the way people of color survive is precisely by having what feminist theorist Chela Sandoval called an “oppositional consciousness,” a way of seeing and understanding that by its very nature remains inaccessible to the dominant group.

will come to seem applicable only to progressives--they'll be the only "Columbeses" around. White progressives, the ones who poured out onto the streets to join black Americans in street protests after Ferguson, will be made to seem the only people still living in America that still want to live in as as ostensibly presumptuously spoiled a fashion as someone like Lena Dunham, that just keeps reaching without limit, reacting to every new avenue that opens up, not a source of trepidation but as an adventure. They’ll become the ones to take down because they’re the only ones who think our society hasn’t become so bad that current troubles can't still be managed without going apocalyptic, without engaging in some kind of heavily damaging revolution which stops all forward momentum of our current liberal society, all current growth--a “crime” of clear vision ultimately arising out of being those whose particular lineages had evolved quickly enough that they’d left beating their children with switches not one or two but perhaps as many as ten generations ago (Lloyd DeMause, Foundations 33). Infused with so much love, and without internal spectres hating them for daring to see the world as a place to freely explore, ongoing societal growth will not prompt them to need a war of sacrifice; they have no need for all growth to stop to spare them an even worse calamity.


Progressives are going to be put in the position of Jews in Germany during the 30s and 40s, who were targeted because more than any other group they embodied nurturing, accomplished living at a time when terribly harshly-raised Germans were experiencing growth panic, beating a hasty retreat from their enjoying all those 1920s Weimar freedoms. We have to hope they have the numbers, and that the growth the more poorly raised feel in need of repenting hasn’t as much exceeded what their childhoods permitted them as was the case in Germany. 

I’m not sure about the level of growth, what all those years of allowing themselves to succeed within our current liberal society has entailed, but fortunately the childrearing couldn’t have been as bad. Germans inflicted upon Jews the same tortures they themselves experienced in their childhoods—that gives you a sense of how poor German childrearing was at the beginning of the 19th-century, and why studies that show differences between Germans and Jews during this period showcase how disoriented Germans were by societal growth. But we’ll see. And as is, I think Brittney Cooper is lost to us. She has said how she no longer listens to whites for being white, for being unable to separate themselves from a discourse that never will fail to enfranchise them and disempower others; I can no longer attend to her for becoming more and more the voice of the angry persecutory parent of so many Americans’ childhoods, who’ll gloat on crushing happiness.

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