Thursday, September 18, 2014

What We Can't Ignore In The Adrian Peterson Story

  • "The behavior of the oppressed is a prescribed behavior, following as it does the guidelines of the oppressor."---Paulo Freire

It doesn't matter how much money the descendants of an oppressed people have. Money can't buy us new minds. It can't replace the broken spirits that are part of our unfortunate inheritance. We have a history, and that history is filled with experiences that continue to inform our behaviors. Much as we ourselves would like to forget. Much as the guilt-ridden descendants of our oppressors would like us to forget that part of our experience is there. I don't hear anyone telling Jews to forget about the holocaust. How dare they demand that we forget ours. The fact that it is an uncomfortable and ugly scar is a burden we all must share... and bear.

All of us in the experience called America share in a tragedy that we struggle to escape. That experience is a history of oppression that continues to have an impact on our shared experiences. The dynamic of oppression traps both the oppressed and the oppressor. Both become victims and perpetuators of the process of dehumanization that characterizes every relationship in this dynamic. That dynamic gets played out in our marriages. It gets expressed in our relationships with our children. We implement it in our experiences as employers and employed. It continues to wreak havoc in our lives until we recognize it and call it out for what it is. 

Charles Barkley may be right in his note that most families in the South beat their kids; but he misses the larger point. Adrian Peterson learned his abusive responses in the context of the history of that South. He came, as many have, to regard his out of control reactions to his children as the norm. That is tragic. It is however a tragedy that afflict many... Blacks and Whites. Judge Mark Fuller of Alabama has not gotten as much press for beating up his wife while in a hotel in Atlanta; but his actions cannot be separated from the same dynamic that informs the behavior of Peterson. Maybe he hasn't been as exposed to public critique as Peterson because he is a "powerful" white man. Maybe he is, but he is just as vulnerable to the dehumanizing history of oppression that still stains the South. He may have friends who shield him from the public scrutiny that black athletes have to suffer, but he can't hide from the fact that his behavior is just as despicable.

There must come a time in our experience as individuals and as a nation when we pause and recognize the need to seek the remedies for the afflictions that ail us and cause so much damage to those who share our lives. On that day we must stop treating others as property to be exploited. We must stop treating those who share our beds as objects to be used for our self-gratification. We must stop treating our children as owned extensions of our battered egos. On that day we will be fortunate enough to escape the trap of an oppression of our own making. Let us be clear, the change that must come to liberate us from the trap of the dynamic of oppression is part of our work to make this a more equitable society. 

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