Let me start by saying that I am not privy to the details or history of the relationship between gospel music heavyweight Kirk Franklin and his 32-year-old son, Kerrion Franklin.
Though Kerrion posted audio on Instagram over the weekend of his father yelling, “I will break your fucking neck,” and calling him all kinds of motherfuckers and bitch-asses—as many in the Black social media sphere have said, and the gospel artist himself confirmed in a video apologizing to the public on Saturday—this is a private family matter between two adults. We don’t know nearly enough to say who is right or wrong, and it isn’t our job to.
Franklin added that the audio posted by his son wasn’t a complete capture of the conversation, during which he says a therapist was present. And the musician’s explanation that he felt “extremely disrespected” during the conversation with his son is understandable, given that the 32-year-old was also heard on the recording at one point telling his father to “shut the fuck up.”
What can be concluded—without casting blame one way or another—is that the publicly played out family fracas shows a whole a lot of toxicity.
Sadly, though not surprisingly, it has a triggered a conversation among members of the Black community about whether a parent cursing out their child and threatening physical violence is really that toxic after all.
(Spoiler alert: It is).
In response to Franklin’s public apology for the remarks he acknowledged were “inappropriate,” some of his followers suggested it was cool because that’s just how Black parents do.
Others seem outright perturbed that people were taken aback by Franklin’s leaked comments to his son. They suggested, not wrongly, that the type of cussing out was par for the course for some of us with Black parents—but even go further to claim that this kind of verbal abuse was necessary when raising Black kids, lest they turn “soft.”
The thread above, asking whether respondents’ parents cussed them out, elicited stories from people who said their folks had indeed called them every name under the book—bitch, asshole, motherfucker, slut—most often when they were children, under the guise of “discipline.”
One commenter’s admission that her mother told her, at 11 years old, that she wished she had been aborted, reminded me of the many times my own mother told me to kill myself. By the time I hit my 20s, I heard from more than one person that their mother had told them the same thing.
How is it that members of our community can look at objectively heinous interactions between Black parents and their children—which often continue into adulthood but began long before that—and believe they fall under the umbrella of “discipline?” How can we justify adherence to verbal, and many times physical, abuse by suggesting that Black children are uniquely deserving of rough treatment or uniquely unreachable by tenderness?
When we defend treating our children like enemies or lesser beings who need to be castigated and whipped to be kept in line, we’re doing our own part to maintain a world where people see those of us with Black skin as requiring more brutal treatment than others.
It’s also impossible not to make the obvious connection to slavery—where Black people were called the n-word as part of a routine dehumanization and whippings were used to subdue and punish our ancestors—when research shows African Americans hit their children more than Latino and white parents do theirs.
According to the American Psychological Association, Black children are also more likely to be assaulted, seriously injured or killed by a family member than by the police or a neighborhood watchman.
That should disturb all of us, at least as much as—if not more than—our deeply held opposition to people being “disrespectful” to their elders.
The spurious but widespread belief that tough love is ultimately better for Black children—if it doesn’t kill them—is also belied by research showing that when our children experience verbal abuse, it causes them to go on to exhibit low-self control and angry behavior. Abusive household environments also help funnel our children into juvenile systems and into tragic altercations with police.
When we feed our children a steady diet of aggression, silencing, cursing and threats of violence—it’s pretty rich to expect them to not go on and exhibit the same, especially when they are adults responding to the parents who many times taught them that it’s OK for families talk to each other this way.
Or is it only OK when this kind of brutal communication is going in one direction, from parents with power over young children with no resources or agency with which to set boundaries or push back, like adult children can?
bell hooks wrote in Salvation: Black People and Love about her distress at hearing Black children of all ages tell her, “There is no such thing as love.” And it isn’t any wonder when we see what some of us are willing to argue is OK, coming from the people who are supposed to be the first to show us love.
Thankfully, more and more Black people are rejecting these harmful approaches to parenting. But we clearly have an ongoing battle to fight when it comes to eradicating the beliefs some of us hold—that threats of violence and vile words of anger and dehumanization between Black children and their parents are justifiable, acceptable, even necessary for us to be brought up right.
To err is human, and Kirk Franklin—nor any other parent—can’t be faulted for that. Learning to love each other better is also the kind of human behavior we all should aspire to, defend and work towards, no matter how old we are.