Often when I do speak, the topic of discipline comes up. Many of the parents are shocked to learn that there is a huge difference in the discipline philosophies between a black house and white house. Speaking in generalities, I explain that in black homes the discipline is much stricter and the discipline in white homes in much more relaxed. The idea of “time outs” in the black home is non-existent and the thought of using the “time-out” approach in the black community is often met with a laugh.
Since I grew up in a white home and my wife grew up in a black home, I asked her what discipline looked like in her home. She confirmed that “time outs” weren’t even considered. The dynamics in her family were that orders were given and expected to be carried out and there was no room for debate or discussion.
In my home, rules were more like the lines in a parking lot. They were suggested but rarely enforced. We were free to debate the rules and discuss them. We didn’t even have time outs; that was too strict.
The differences in our two homes reflect the perceived discipline differences between the two cultures. These differences often play out in the grocery store… again. I have seen white children screaming down the aisle and no discipline was applied and I have seen black children attempt to step out of line and be quickly brought back in.
This big difference made me curious and so I asked my wife and a good friend of mine who is black why they thought the discipline in the black households was so strict and they both said the same thing. It was part of survival that has been passed down from generations. Black parents knew that if their children were to step out of line outside the home it could have meant death. A black person that spoke out against authority could easily be beaten or killed. Creating an environment where black children obeyed without questioning increased their chances of survival. This was passed down as common place.
The sociology professor broadened the conversation even further by asking me how I thought that would impact a child’s ability to express themselves. Initially, I had no answer but then I sat and thought about it. Black children are often taught early on not to question authority, not to be inquisitive. White children are taught that they have an equal say in the matter and are often allowed to debate and ask questions.
So how could that play out in a class room?
The white kids are more apt to ask questions when they don’t understand and openly express themselves, while the black children are less likely to do so. Taking it one step further, it is possible that the black child who doesn’t ask questions is perceived as not engaged and uninterested. It could affect their grades because the black child who doesn’t understand is less likely to ask questions to gain an understanding.
Now how many teachers are taught about cultural differences and how those cultural differences can affect how a student learns and interacts? It is my opinion, that many teachers are taught to teach to the societal norm, and these cultural complexities don’t get taught nor do they figure in to analyzing behavior. Instead, what a child does is the focus instead of why the child does and many bright minds are being ignored and extinguished instead of cultivated.
Has my stream of consciousness gotten away from me? Am I linking too many unrelated things together? Could be or I could be right on. Either way, I think it’s important that we start to look at things differently as we expand this much needed conversation about race, culture, and our children.