White Discipline

I work in the world of restorative justice, so the conversation about discipline is prevalent.  I also dissect whiteness, white culture and white norms, which requires a lot of reflective perceptions.  I do an exercise in many of my trainings that asks everyone to think about white culture and all the ways it shows up in the world.  Discipline is a part of culture and one of the questions I ask is how do white people discipline.  If you are white and are around communities of color and their conversation on how white people discipline their kids, you would definitely hear an earful about how white people let their kids run all around with no containment.  You would probably hear about how we are often seen as being soft on our kids and not holding strong boundaries, that we let our kids be disrespectful and talk to us and other adults in ways that would never be allowed in their homes.

In my reflections about my own discipline growing up and what I notice all around me, I am definitely in agreement that white people generally have much less discipline with their children and themselves than with most people of color.  A society rooted in white supremacy has made it unsafe for people of color to be running around all over the place with no containment.  Speaking disrespectfully to the wrong person could equal harm and even death.  The strong disciplinary practices in most families of color are coming from generations and generations of being hard at home in order to protect their children and themselves from the even harsher realities of the outside world.  White families, on the other hand, don’t have the same harsh realities of the outside world.  White privilege protects us from harsh treatment and so there hasn’t been any real need to have strict discipline at home.  We don’t need to protect our kids in the same way because white privilege protects them.

White culture is also the underlying culture of all the major institutions in this country, including the criminal system and our educational system.  Interestingly, in both of these systems, they advocate for strong punitive discipline.   So, what’s the difference?  The difference is the people who are getting the discipline.  When it comes to white people and our own families, we have a tendency to have a high tolerance for breaking rules and often give out softer punishment.  When it comes to disciplining Black and Brown youth and adults, there is harsh punishment, mandatory minimums, no tolerance policies, 3 strikes, etc.  In schools, the discipline has proven over and over to be more focused on Black and Brown students.  Read HERE for an article going into this in more detail.

And case after case has shown us that even when white people end up committing crimes, they are seen by the media and the judge or lawyers as “making a mistake” or “just doing what boys do” or other similar softening of the behavior to reduce the ultimate discipline afflicted on them.  Which, as a strong advocate of restorative justice, I believe this is the direction we should be taking things.  People make mistakes and the system shouldn’t ruin someone’s life because of it.  There should be consequences and accountability, but options that are actually in alignment to someone’s actual rehabilitation.  Unfortunately, the “justice” system too often gives a pass for mistakes to white people, while criminalizing and putting harsh sentences on their counterparts of color.

A prime example of this was with Brock Turner (a 19 year old white college student) and Cory Batey (a 19 year old Black college student) who were both convicted of raping unconscious women.  Both situations had ample evidence to prove the rapes happened.  They happened in different places, but were equally disturbing cases of young men assaulting and violating unconsenting women.  What were the sentences?  Turner (the white young male) was given 6 months jail time and could be released in 3 months with good behavior. He also wouldn’t have to go to prison and could stay at the local jail for his sentence.   Batey (the young black male) was sentenced to a 15-20 year minimum mandatory sentence in a prison.  The only clear difference between these two cases is the race of the young men.  This is one example of many to highlight what I am talking about.  To read more, click HERE

White culture has two personalities when it comes to dealing with discipline.  One side is forgiving and soft and not wanting to hurt people with too much punishment.  This is more often than not, reserved for people who are white.  On the other side, there is a belief that people must pay for their mistakes and learn hard lessons with harsh consequences.  This is reserved for people who are not white.  I believe this comes out of generational and historical beliefs of internalized superiority and subconsciously (and consciously, for some) needing to control people whose tenacity and fierceness through centuries of oppression has not been demolished. Deep down, I think white people fear people of color because we ultimately know in our spirits that what has been done to people of color is so bad that if there was actual righteous retaliation, we would deserve to be put through extreme, harsh conditions.  So white people have needed to manipulate and control people of color out of fear of that retaliation.   This is a theory that will be broken down further in future commentaries.

In closing, I wanted to share another training coming up in January that I am a part of:

Using a Culturally Responsive Lens to Build Community: A 3-day Restorative Justice Training

In this training, we will be breaking down culture and discipline and a lot of what I talked about in this blog post.  If you are in education and in the Bay Area, check it out.  If you aren’t but you know others who are, pass the information along.  The training is going to be amazing and it is being facilitated by a group of gifted and truly talented people, including myself.



Author: Kusum

I talk about the difficult, dive into the amazing, expand beyond the limits, heal the unhealable, and love beyond reciprocity

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