I had a young man come into my office, a bright, precocious older child living in a group home for a variety of reasons, most of which were not his fault. He happens to be black. His crime of the week? Getting into a fight with another group home boy, a new boy to the house. So we discuss this because somewhere in the middle of all this we have developed rapport. I’m not sure why, except that one week he was telling me therapists can’t help him and the next week he had his guard down. I passed some kind of test, or maybe his life is just going better. Regardless, he tells me his side of the story. He tells me this new kid was calling his mother names. Not just “your momma is so fat” kind of stuff, but real names. This kid, according to my client, called his mother a “nigger.” I apologize for even posting that word because of its ugliness, dehumanization of blacks in
, and the years of innocent blood seeping from every letter. America
Now, I am a white girl, so this label has never been used against anyone in my family. But I know the history of this word, and its history is evil. The little boy who used this word does not know that this word conjures up hundreds of years of cruel subjugation, but he needed to learn right then and there that it’s not okay to use that kind of language. My client helped him learn this lesson by hitting him in the face.
Personally, I believe a good smack in the face is an awesome object lesson especially for boys, who often use violence as a way to establish a pecking order. If one of my sons ever used this word against anyone I would not have an issue with my husband using some degree of corporal punishment to get the idea across that we NEVER dehumanize others.
But I am not serving in the capacity of a mother or a private citizen. I am serving in the capacity of a therapist, a therapist who is aware that in a group home, it doesn’t matter WHY you punched the guy in the face, it matters that you did, so you must have a “behavior problem.” Never mind that fighting is a common behavior for young boys, especially if you stick 6 of them from different backgrounds, all with chips on their shoulders, into one small house and supervise them with rotating staff with High School diplomas who don’t stick around longer than a few months. Never mind that a lot of these kids come from xenophobic backgrounds to begin with so they are actually scared of people with different skin colors because they were trained to be by their families of origin. Never mind that some of them don’t really see what the point is to making changes because they may NEVER GET TO GO HOME, no matter what they do, and fighting and destruction are the only means they feel they have to make a statement because they never a say in getting taken away from mom.
Regardless of the difficult circumstances these kids are placed in, they are expected to follow rules, to play nice, and to get passing grades in school. I get that we can’t enable bad behavior just because someone has had a hard life. But it’s really easy for a social worker to say that who came from a middle class life of stability, where people don’t use nasty words against other people’s mothers, and you don’t have to watch your back every minute of the day.
Anyhow, I digress. It does my group home kid no good to have a therapist say, “Sounds like that kid had it coming! That’ll teach him to use nasty names about other people’s mothers!” He still gotten written up even if I think he had cause. And who’s to say my client didn’t call the little boy’s mom a “Cracker” or a “Beaner” a few minutes before? I only get one side of the story. So, I plod onward, asking him what he will do differently the next time, encouraging him to rise above his environment, sharing my analogy of a lobster in a bucket (you don’t have to put a lid on a bucket of live lobsters, because as soon as one tries to get out, the others pull him right down in their own attempts to get out) and encouraging him to not let the ignorance of others pull him downward.
But as part of me is really glad he punched that kid in the face, and you better believe I understand where he is coming from.