Pete Dougherty, a columnist for USA Today in Wisconsin, wrote that Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson beat his 4-year-old son with a switch in 2014 because he's "descended from slaves," according to screenshots of the article captured by Deadspin.
"Let's ... not forget that Peterson likely is descended from slaves who suffered savage disciplinary beatings generation after generation after generation," Dougherty wrote Thursday. "It excuses nothing but also can't be ignored. This is learned behavior."
The paragraph in question has since been deleted from the column, with an editor's note inserted at the top that reads as follows:
A paragraph in an earlier version of Pete Dougherty's column that included a reference to Peterson's punishment of his 4-year-old son being connected to America's history of slavery was removed. It was poorly reasoned and insensitive. We apologize to all readers who were offended.
Peterson was indicted for child abuse in September 2014 after beating his 4-year-old son and leaving bruises and lacerations on the child's back, buttocks, arms and legs. In November of that year, Peterson pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of misdemeanor reckless assault. He avoided jail time, and was ordered to pay a $4,000 fine and do 80 hours of community service.
There are no winners in this scenario. Peterson is a child abuser, his son is an abused child and Dougherty is a paid columnist who drew a lazy and ill-argued conclusion about both using racial essentialist reasoning.
But logic is also a victim here. Dougherty declines to account for the millions of black American parents — nearly all of whom are descended from slaves, too — who do not abuse their children. He ignores that child abuse statistics are poorly understood from an empirical standpoint, but that available literature suggests that rates between blacks (25%) and whites (20%) differ by just 5%.
Perhaps most damning is that Dougherty uses slavery as a throwaway explanation for alleged black pathology without questioning whether the connection is true. He's not the first white pundit to do this. In 2014, New York magazine's Jonathan Chait debated Ta-Nehisi Coates over the origins of a so-called "culture of poverty" in black communities, arguing that slavery had left a "cultural residue" on blacks that constitutes its own independent roadblock to success.
But few would apply this same reasoning to white people. By Dougherty's logic — considering that whites have similar rates of child abuse as blacks today — is it not equally plausible that white people beat their children at such high rates because of slavery? They were, after all, the ones doing the beating — "generation after generation after generation," as Dougherty put it.
Why do pundits seem so comfortable arguing that slavery left a cultural stain on black people, but rarely argue that whites — the actual perpetrators and beneficiaries of slavery — were equally tainted, if not more so?