Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How to Talk to your Child about Bullying -- Apologize!

How Do We Talk to our Child about Bullying?:
Start With an Apology from your Parent(s)

By Reginald Leamon Robinson

I just read a blog article entitled, DO and DON’T: How to Talk to your Child about Bullying, in the Huffingtonpost.com (October 8, 2013).  As I’ve felt in the past, I was left feeling like the authors of such articles still can’t get down to the source of the bullying.

Ever since I saw the stop bullying campaign on television, particularly on HBO, I always wondered if this feel-good approach would really help children who are either doing the bullying or suffering from it.  Well, I just read all 11 panels on this site, and I can tell that based on my ongoing research, children are not born to bully or to suffer bullying.  Rather, it is parents who create such experiences for their children by engaging in a parenting style, which is principally learned through how they were raised, that Alice Miller’s For Your Own Good would call “poisonous pedagogy.”  Based on power plays and the need of an adult child parent to victimize their children, in effect killing in their children today what was killed in them when they were children, parents who create bullying experiences for their children, regardless of whether they are doing to others or attracting it to them, require obedient children as a very high value.  It doesn’t matter if these parents are liberals, moderates, conservatives.  Parents who embrace poison pedagogy do violence to their children’s vitality, spontaneity, and authenticity by breaking their children’s will.  In addition to good, respectful, and obedient children, such parents want orderly, cleanliness, and emotionally controlled children.  You’ll know when you’re around such parents or adults if you take your children into public spaces, and your children in moments of joy and happiness will squeal or shriek.  Often as that child's parent, you’ll get that look that says control your child.  As a parent, and a single dad, I’ve received such looks and glares when they heard my child’s voice.

Anyway, my point is that we keep focusing on how to talk to our children if they suffer bullying.  We might ask: what can I do to help Mary and Paul not have these emotionally and physically painful experiences, in which they pretty much get to relive the powerlessness that they’ve suffered through at home for at less 7 or 8 years or more at home?

Home is where we as parents create those children who will bully and those who will suffer the impotent fury and discharged anger of a child who has been maltreated in the earliest years of his or her life.  By impotent fury, Alice Miller meant that we will recreate the traumatizing experiences when we’re bigger, stronger, or more powerful than the person or persons who are the target of that fury. Just consider that most of the elected officials in the House of Representatives (and the Senate) come from homes in which their parents shoved rules, law, order, obedience, and power dynamics down the throats of elected officials like Speaker of the House Boehner, and now that he’s in a position of public power, he’d rather shove his power, rules, order, and values down the throats of public citizens, revealing that not only he does not care about the average citizen, but he also intends to bully others who he perceives as less powerful.  He won’t surrender, for that means certain existential death.  At the same time, adult children like Boehner who still suffer from their internalized maltreatment and children who bully at school or elsewhere are discharging the anger that has built up within their psychological, physical, and emotional bodies.  I can imagine that they are always ready to bully, to fight, by always seeking out other children who they perceive as smaller and weaker.  Every time they bully someone, they release a bit more of their internalized anger.  Speaker of the House Boehner and other elected officials, who forced our federal government to shutdown because they couldn’t defeat the Affordable Care Act at the November ballot box and in the federal courts and before the Supreme Court, now wish to de-fund the Act so that they can serve their new masters -- special interests, which means that ironically they have exchanged their parental abusers for corporate masters who treated such officials as little more than hired guns or expendable objects.

So if we wish really to end bullying, we must begin to address the issue by first and foremost faulting the parents and caregivers who create these bullying children in the first place.  So based on Alice Miller’s For Your Own Good at page 59, consider the following.  It’s how parents create bullies to torment the very children who have been broken at home before they get to school or other public places.

1.  Adults are the masters of the dependent child.
2.  Adults determine in a godlike fashion what is right and wrong.
3.  The child is held responsible for the anger of adults.
4.  Parents must always be shielded.
5.  The child’s life-affirming feeling pose a threat to the autocratic parent.
6.  The child’s will must be “broken” as soon as possible.
7.  All this must happen at a very early age so the child “won’t notice” and will not be able to expose the adults.

At the very least, informational programs on bullying, including this blog article on How to Talk to your Child about Bullying, has shielded parents from any accusation that they created (or co-created with the proxy abuse of the other caregiver) the bully who torments our already maltreated children.  And how do such parents achieve the 7 steps of poisonous pedagogy?  They must at the very least engage in physical, emotional, or psychological violence.  If such violence begins when the child is between 0 and 3 years of age, she’ll respond with freezing (one of the four responses to trauma, viz., fight, flight, freeze, fawn), and to freeze is to dissociate, which is the primary response of the infant child.  And she’ll “forget” what actually happened.  Unfortunately, this dissociation does not kill the repressed anger.  It’s been stored in the child’s body, and at some point, unless that child gets real, non-humiliating, and non-manipulative love from someone, including siblings and extended family, that child will unconsciously act on her anger and fury.  In our context, one result is school or public bullying, which can be traced inevitably back to that child’s earliest, and perhaps in the worse case ongoing, experience with childhood trauma.

So, to the implied question of how do we speak to our child or children about bullying, I’d say that parents should begin by apologizing to their children for having slowly or violently broken their children’s will, thus contributing to their need to re-experience unconsciously either power and control over someone who is smaller or weaker than him or her, or to relive the painful suffering and humiliation that flow inexorably from poisonous pedagogy at the hand of their parents.

With a sincere apology offered to the child who has suffered the humiliation of bullying, parent(s) can begin to have an ongoing dialogue with their children, in which at the very least parents don’t attempt to regain the powerful high ground by lying, by faulting the child’s innocent developmentally appropriate behavior, or by shutting down the child’s natural anger and rage when she realizes that the first bullying experience she ever suffered and had to accept as love came from her mother, father, or both.

With an honest, sincere dialogue between the parent and child, perhaps the family begins to heal.  At the very least, the child begins to heal and has the potential for a different relationship with her parent.  And healing would naturally require the bullying parent to accept that he was maltreated when he was an infant or toddler or child.  In addition, that parent must begin to fault his parent(s), and this process according to Alice Miller does not mean that the adult child has to hate his parents.  However, it also doesn’t mean that they will become engaged in a path-breaking dialogue either.  Chances are great that the adult child who confronts his parents will meet with “How dare you? Don’t you know what sacrifices we made for you, so that you could live well, go to the best school, and enjoy leisure?”

Unfortunately, based on the intergenerational transmission of violence, such amenities can’t replace real love, compassionate tenderness, and non-violent parenting toward the adult child.

While it’s not a magic bullet, an adult parent’s sincere apology to their bullied child and an honest sharing of some of what the parent did to the suffering child will re-create a neutral, humanity-recognizing space in the parent-child relationship, in which real healing for both the parent and the child can take place.  That child can gradually reclaim her vitality, spontaneity, and authenticity, the very source on which her self-esteem must rest.

With such self-esteem, she’ll not need unconsciously to relive her shame and humiliation by drawing to her confirmatory bullying experiences that “say” she’s unworthy.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Does Black Mothers' Brutality Toward Little Black Boys Explain Why Gangsta Rappers Call Black Women (or their Mothers) Bitches and Hoes?



By Reginald Leamon Robinson1

You stankin’ funky nasty trifling bitch You!2

It is now de rigueur to deny that the antimaternal verbal content of the dozens of other black tropes [like bitches] bears any relation to problems in the actual mother-son relationship. I find this politically correct denial simply preposterous.3


In Nasty Bitch, Bust Down,who’d been a practicing psychologist,4refers to women as nasty bitches, hot twats, and hoes. In dealing with these women, black men like Down must dicksmith,5 which undergirds hyper-masculinity. Black men who get played just have sex. Dicksmithers must über fuck. They must reduce women or black women to hoes, bitches, and cum guzzlers: “cum was drippin’ out of her nose all ova her clothes,” and “when I shot my nut . . . she went a slurpin it.” They must demean them: “Her pussy hole smelled like sour cream and onion.” With black men, sex must distort, wound, or cripple: “She was limpin, her pussy was stretched out of shape.” Bust must exploit, and so he refuses the common courtesy of giving her oral sex, too. He’d gotten his. For him, man-fucking requires domination, perhaps a way of garnering love, respect, control, or power: “While I was fuckin her I said you gon’ respect me bitch!” And dicksmithing perhaps gives black men a license to “kill” black women: “she went to choke, she couldn’t take this dick/But I didn’t give a fuck I tried to kill that bitch.” In the end, Nasty Bitch concludes with Bust, having been sucked off by a women for drugs (i.e., rocks), called her: “You stankin’ funky nasty trifling bitch You!”

Nasty Bitch’s lyrics move us well beyond tropes, as Orlando Patterson argued in Blacklash.6 For Patterson, tropes like bitch confess nearly the unspeakable: black mothers and their son do not share the much declared and oft professed special love bond. Blacklash argues that black mothers emasculate their little black boys, leaving them in doubt about their identity, and requiring them at least unconsciously to expurgate any toxics that may have destroyed their natural impulses. How do black mothers emasculate their little black boys? Beyond slavery, Patterson can’t quite answer this question. Yet, since slavery, black mothers have broken little black boys through brutal violence, obedience training, and morality that cause what Alice Miller calls “emotional blindness.” By “emotional blindness,” Alice Miller means repressed “feelings and memories that renders a person unable to see certain sets of circumstances.”7 One result, which Kenneth Clark discussed, was hyper- masculinity.8 The other was the bad nigger, the street character who everyone feared because he unconsciously did violence to proxies and surrogates that he’d suffered. Did that include black women? Perhaps intimate partner violence flows from this soul-murdering or existential death caused by black mothers’ parenting style. If asked, mothers will say: “Of course, I love him. As mothers, we always love our children.”9 Likewise, of his mother, Dr. Mahalia Ann Hines, Common says: “she is a mother, a grandmother, my best friend.”10

Given the foregoing, is the black mother-son bond real? Likewise, are Bust Down’s lyrics in Nasty Bitch symbolically humiliating, a form of violence, black women? Without generalizing, if black mothers-sons love bond is more fact than myth, does that bond reveal serious fissures when rappers like Bizzar say: “we will smack a bitch and smack a ho”? Scholars, commentators, and bloggers who have critiqued tropes like bitch and who have generally denounced vilifying lyrics have examined the historical roots of rap and its leftist politics,11 which deployed the counterhegemonic perspectives of marginalized minorities, especially black men.12 They’ve critiqued derogatory lyrics from a gender perspective,13 even though some have argued that female rap artists say “bitch”, too.14 Still others argue that words like bitch can establish at the very least an artist as masculine and misogynistic.15 In the end, none of these perspectives answers these questions.

Let’s recast these questions, so that they dovetail into the central focus of this chapter. Why do little black boys who are arguably raised by black mothers with love, nurturing, and a deep respect for their authenticity, spontaneity, and vitality grow into adults who call black women “unproper bitch[es],”16 or nasty hoes? Few scholars venture into this forbidden territory, when they address why rappers are preoccupied by “gunplay, killing other men, being tough and invulnerable,”17 or as the Geto Boys say: “I, bitch I just want to fuck you.”18 For example, Michael Eric Dyson waxed on about our  collective “American social imagination, the violent man using the gun to defend his family . . . becomes a suitable metaphor for the notion of manhood.”19 What’s forbidden? Within the black community, it’s verboten to fault parents, especially black mothers. Nevertheless, I argue that black mothers, who rely on cruelty as love as a parenting style, brutally beat and break their little black boys because black parents required absolute obedience, loyalty, and respect from their children,20 and in order to survive and to hopefully get loved, these children repressed their cruel sufferings and thus become emotionally blind to their traumatic childhood history, which gets revealed to us in part by their perhaps near autobiographic lyrics and by their deep rage and anger toward black women who are by proxy their brutal mothers.

That thesis is rather disquieting. Why? Little black boys mortally fear the loss of their mothers’ love, and in the hopes of keeping it, they’ll strongly and blindly identify with their black caregivers’ justifying morality. They’ll believe as follows. If bad, they must be punished. If punished, they must suffer humiliation and shame. If humiliated, they must suppress his physical and emotional pain. If suppressed, they must accept the received morality that relieves mothers of guilt, viz., “If I didn’t love you, I’d not beat you!” If immoral, they must identify with their mothers’ morality, so that they can either be good or earn love. If so identified, they must accept her beliefs, which require them to ignore their body’s pain and to distrust their feelings. Ignored pain and distrusted feelings darken humiliation, thus distorting their existential truth. If so distorted, they must believe that white racism, the principal cause of black mothers’ brutality, caused blacks to suffer constitutionally, to languish economically, to lag educationally, to falter spiritually, or to be denied socially. By keeping little black boys emotionally blind, by requiring them to fault white racism, the dark secret of parental brutality causes blacks to experience existentially genocidal, and despite their black mothers’ distorting morality, these little black boys’ pain, anger, rage, and humiliation, although repressed, still reside in their bodies, where all trauma exists. Within gangsta rap, that trauma resurfaces, carrying an unconscious compulsion to repeat,21 and getting symbolically expressed as vilifying, disrespectful, humiliating, and violent lyrics.

In this chapter, I advance this thesis by analyzing gangsta rap lyrics, and in so doing, I’ll read such lyrics through Alice Miller’s framework to illustrate analytically why black men actually and unconsciously hate and rage against their mothers, which means that a real mother-son love bond is part of the dark secrets that negatively impact and perennially destabilize the so-called black community.


1.  Copyright © 2012 by Reginald Leamon Robinson. Professor of Law, Howard University School of Law , Washington, D .C. B.A., (Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa)Howard (1981); M.A., The University of Chicago (1983); Exchange Scholar, Political Science and Economics, Yale University (1984-1985); J.D., The University of Pennsylvania (1989). I initially presented that essay at the Hip-Hop and the Law Symposium, which was held at West Virginia University College of Law, Spring 2009. I wish to Professor andré douglas pond cummings for not only organizing the symposium and for inviting me to present, but also for him, Professor Pamela Bridgewater, and Professor Donald Tibbs, Ph.D., extending me the offer to contribute that presentation to this book, which is path breaking and paradigm shifting. In addition to the editors who showed infinite patience with my creative process, I also owe great thanks to Professor Crisarla Houston (UDC) who read and commented on my drafts. Last, but not least, I’d also like to thank my research assistant, Ms. Erin Medeiros (class of 2013), for her consistent attention to detail and excellent research. Of course, the politics and errata belong exclusively to me.

2.  Bust Down, Nasty Bitch, in NASTY BITCH (Original Release Date Dec. 13, 1991, Lil Joe Records, Inc.).

3.  Orlando Patterson, Blacklash: The Crisis of Gender Relations Among African Americans62 TRANSITION (1993).

4.  See Bust Down, http://www .soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=233325 (last visited: March 25, 2013). According to this promotional page:
Bust Down was the first New Orleans Rapper to achieve national recognition! . . . . After going platinum and not receiving a penny from his record label, he became disenchanted with the music industry, enrolled in college and earned a degree in psychology! After years practicing psychology, he could no longer quell his burning desire to create and perform, so he has re-entered the music arena and is currently working on his new album! Bust Down is the quintessential lyricist; his music is a magical blend of old school style with cutting edge tracks topped with a flawless delivery of catchy melodies and ingenious rhyme schemes!

5.  See T . DENEAN SHARPLEY-WHITING, PIMPS UP, HOS DOWN: HIP HOPS HOLD ON YOUNG BLACK WOMEN 88 (2007) (“In this space, the mythic dominance of black men and their perfected craft of ‘dicksmithing’ appear uncontested by all, irrespective of race, class, and gender.”).

6.  Patterson, supra note 3, at 15.

7.  Id. at 14.

8.  See KENNETH B. CLARK, DARK GHETTO 70-74 (1968).


10.  Id. at 5.

11.  See generally Sebastien Elkouby, Is Hip Hop Destroying Black America?www .raprehab.com/is-hip-hop-destroying-black-america/ (last visited: March 14, 2013).

12.  See Ronald J. Stephens & Earl Wright II, Beyond Bitches, Niggers, and Ho’s: Some Suggestions for Including Rap Music as a Qualitative Data Source, 3 RACE & SOCIETY 23-40 (2001)

13.  See Sherryl Kleinman, Matthew B. Ezzell, & A. Corey Frost, Reclaiming Critical Analysis: The Social Harms of “Bitch”, 3 SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS 47 (2009).

14.  See Elizabeth Monk-Turner & D’Ontae Sylvertooth, Rap Music: Gender Difference in Derogatory W ord Use, 10 AM. COMM. J. *2 (2008).


16.  Ying Yang Twins, Hoes, UNITED STATES OF ATLANTA (Year).

17.  Byron Hurt, Hip-Hop (Abridged): Beyond Beats and Rhymes 3 (2006), www.mediaed.org. 

18.  Geto Boys, This Dick’s For You, TILL DEATH DO US PART (year).

19.  Hurt, supra note 17, at 3.

20.  See Reginald Leamon Robinson, Dark Secrets: Obedience Training, Rigid Physical Violence, Black Parenting, and Reassessing the Origins of Instability in the Black Family Through a Re-Reading of Fox Butterfield’s ALL GODS CHIL DREN, 55 HOWARD L.J. 393 (2012).


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kip’s Revenge: Race, Money, Property, and Parental Cruelty in Rhinelander v. Rhinelander (Book Review)

By Reginald Leamon Robinson[1]

Professor of Law

Howard Law School

Washington, DC 20008

Elizabeth M. Smith-Pryor, Property Rites: The Rhinelander Trial, Passing, and the Protection of Whiteness. UNC Press, 2009. 391 pp.

Why did Philip Rhinelander fund the annulment trial of his son’s, Kip’s, marriage to Alice Jones? It was the 1920s, and so perhaps the easy answer is race and class. In her ordinary but complicated thesis, Smith-Pryor bets on the dovetailing of race and racial ideologies. More than just retelling Rhinelander v. Rhinelander’s racist and legal saga, especially by stewing race passing, racial culture, and upper class consciousness together, Smith-Pryor hopes Property Rites contributes to and elaborates on growing studies of northern racism. Although I believe she succeeds on that hope, does Smith-Pryor race and racial ideologies thesis really expose Rhinelander v. Rhinelander’s the deep, existential cause?

Kip’s annulment trial has a family back story. In 1884, Kip’s uncle, William, married an Irish domestic, which erupted a bonfire, implicating money, property, and class. After all, in the 1880s, the Irish were some of the new Negroes. Undoubtedly, after William’s marriage, the Rhinelander clan wanted to kill off the offending marriage by buying her off Margueretta and urging her back to Ireland. Both refused. For his disobedience, his father humiliated and perhaps traumatized, if not destroyed, him. William was cut off, became Rynlander, moved about, settled in Brooklyn, had two children, fell on hard times, felt cheated by the family’s stipend-dispensing lawyer, and shot the lawyer, who he felt cheated him and attempted to seduce his wife. By the shooting, William had left his wife and kids and was living in a boardinghouse. More than that, the Rhinelander patriarch wiped William’s name from the family tree. To annul William’s marriage and keep him out of jail for felonious assault, the Rhinelander clan sought to have him declared temporarily insane. Clearly then, the Rhinelander children and grandchildren knew that if they disobeyed patriarchs, dirtied whiteness, and rejected high society’s morays by befouling filial purity with offending blood and brood, they’d become non-beings.

In Kip’s case, Alice Jones, a Nigger, was a domestic, just like William’s Margueretta. William, an heir to a fortune, was like Leonard, or Kip. Both sought love and well-being in low, dark, societal straits, and thus both married beneath their station. Both had their own minds. Or did they? Philip watched his Uncle, William, suffer ignominy. He’d learn well; he’d tow the line. So would his children, including Kip, or so he’d hope. But to avoid William’s weak-minded felonious assault on the family lawyer, a second, scandalous embarrassment for the clan, Philip would use similar legal tools, but he’d not drive Kip to ruin. Perhaps he didn’t need to do so, for William’s fall was likely widely shared in whispered tones as Kip grew to manhood. So, does that explain the Philip Rhinelander’s legal assault on Kip and Alice’s marriage?

Perhaps. Property Rites is not very clear on this question, even though Smith-Pryor ventures the historically situated answer: race and racial ideologies. As the later chapters confess, especially where we learn that Alice Jones prevailed, Smith-Pryor tells us that, in the annulment trial, the Rhinelanders ostensibly pursued the legal theory of racial misrepresentation but really wanted to preserve their fortune. At the time, New York like other common law jurisdictions recognized dower and curtsey. Upon marrying Kip, dower granted Alice a one-third life interest in whatever property he’d already owned or would acquired. Alice’s interest included rental income. Moreover, Kip had to get Alice’s permission and release before he sold property, and if he didn’t, Alice still retained her dower interest in that property. Alice did out lived Kip by 35 years. If Kip were a co-owner of property with the Rhinelander clan, including Philip, he could not sell that property without Alice’s permission, and if she agreed, she released her dower interest in the sold property. If Kip sold the property without her release, then the buyer took the property subject to Alice’s dower interest if she survived Kip’s death. Thus, by operation of law, when Kip married Alice, a penniless, domestic of questionable but still colored racial origins, he flung open some of the Rhinelander fortune and property holdings to a blood, low society stranger. Yet, because New York had limited fault-based pleadings for either a divorce, which was adultery, or annulment, which has material misrepresentation, retired Judge Isaac Mill and Leon Jacobs, Kip’s family retained lawyers, sought annulment for racial concealment. It’s a tactic that Philip had learned directly or otherwise in the legal maelstrom that cast William into filial oblivion. So, was Philip Rhinelander driven by Plymouth-Rock arrogance or by material high-mindedness coupled with racial insecurity?

After all, Rhinelander v. Rhinelander was held in the 1920s when Jim Crow and its offspring like Eugenics rabidly stalked the country. It took place before Perez v. Sharpe (1948), which denied a marriage license to a biracial couple, until the California’s high court overturned it. It was after United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923), in which the High Court denied immigration to a dark-skinned Brahman, who argued not for a common, every white man’s understanding of Caucasian, but for a more technical, anthropological one.

Yet, Smith-Pryor also noted that Property Rites was not just a non-fictional, legal historical narrative about a bygone era. One-part historical legal drama, it was also a current discourse, dealing with our extant struggles around racial, class, and wealth.

Given Property Rites apparent scope, I initially thought otherwise.

Then I recalled that in October 2009, Keith Bardwell, Justice of the Peace, Tangihaposa Parish, Louisiana, had denied a marriage license to Beth Humphrey and Terence McKay, both of Hammond, Louisiana, because he utterly rejected biracial marriages. What really confused Bardwell was this question: why did white women want to marry black men? Apart from this existential and psychological query, Bardwell was burdened by an unconstitutional, non-legal social justification for rejecting such license applicants: it was bad for biracial children, often the product of such marriages, and he opined that when such marriages failed, often leaving their product, i.e., biracial children, in the lurch, it’d be grandparents’ custodial hands into which these unfortunate children would fall.

Hadn’t Bardwell heard of Loving v. Virginia (1968) or even perused the pages of Zablocki v. Redhail (1978)? Motivated by what others thought, especially his black friends, Bardwell frustrated, at least delayed, biracial couples by requiring them to go else where to get such a license.

Was Philip Rhinelander driven by Bardwell’s fears or cares? That is, was Philip attempting to buttress the clearly and increasingly erstwhile racial divide between whites and blacks? As more blacks migrated out of the South and found higher wages, better housing, and greater political rights in northern geographies, century-old, well-defended racial pinions faced slow oxidizing pressures. And so yes, Rhinelander turned on real race-based fears, or Philip’s legal team cynically exploited the usual fears of the existentially insecure masses, which for them made Rhinelander about their racial fears. Hence, Property Rites becomes both a historical narrative and contemporary critique. To present this reveal, especially in New York where racial rules did not bar such marriages, Smith-Pryor’s deft writing and keen insights in Property Rites thoroughly disentombed whatever racial bones had existed in the case’s records. And if Philip learned this strategic play at the knees of the Rhinelander patriarch, his father, then he gambled wisely that fears, money, and power could get proper results. As tabloid journalists waded in, poor and society whites pledged their fear-based sympathies. In the end, Philip would destroy an offense to God, and along the way, he’d drag Kip back to the filial nest where white, wealth, and power conjoined appropriately.

In Property Rites, Smith-Pryor deftly weaves race, power, privilege, and wealth together, which were especially clear in the post-trial unfoldings. In 1927, years after the jury had turned away Philip’s cynical race-based annulment claim, Alice sought a legal separation and support, alleging that Kip abandoned her and treated her cruelly and inhumanely. Having no ability to serve Kip, Alice’s petition died. After losing the annulment trial, Kip got a Nevada divorce, at one point seeking help under that state’s antimiscegenation laws. Urged perhaps by his family, he needed to quiet Alice’s claims against his money and property. Under Pennoyer v. Neff, a New York court held that Nevada’s 1929 divorce decree was powerless against Alice Jones’ support claims. In 1929, Alice filed a claim against Philip, alleging alienation of Kip’s affection, and demanding $500,000.00. In 1930, Alice pursued Kip again, now a Nevada citizen, seeking support, and a New York court ordered temporary support and later sequestered his property when he refused to comply. With Alice’s petitions, especially Philip’s reaction to the alienation claim and court’s sequestering ruling, money and property – the case’s stalking horses – became the Brailled text that even the socially and legally blind could read. From the beginning, that text had always been writ large for Philip and the Rhinelander clan. By Kip’s and the clan’s legal reaction, by which I mean the legal pawing at Nevada’s divorce laws, the fears that had driven the Rhinelander patriarch to disinherit William were now before them.

Even though Smith-Pryor had interlaced race and racial ideologies with subsidiary issues of society and wealth, the Kip-Alice saga refined itself in later years into chess-like moves to protect the Rhinelander purse. As such, property and preventing wealth transfers through common law mechanisms like dower were not subsidiary but primary forces. It was these forces that were Rhinelander v. Rhinelander’s maison script, now lifting the 1924 flat, two-dimensional legal pleadings into sharp relief.

What of the primacy of race and racial ideologies? Did they govern later negotiations? Perhaps, because we simply can’t reduce the noise of our biases; yet, in the Psychology of Consciousness (1972), Robert Ornstein would argue that the Rhinelander clan could tune it out, at least long enough to legally end the risk that Alice could impact how the Rhinelander clan did business. With Alice’s order for temporary support, the sequestration of Kip’s property and income, and her claim for $500,000.00 against Philip, they had to focus. They had to get to the issues that drove Philip’s father to truly humiliate William: money and the privilege that it purchased. In the deal, where race and racial ideologies played an ever decreasing if no role, they released each other’s property interest, even though Alice had nothing to risk or lose. Under this economic and financial deal, Alice would abandon her then existing claims, and she would extinguish “all rights or claims of dower, inheritance and descent, and all rights or claims to a distributive share of his [Leonard’s] personal estate, and all other rights and interests or claims in any manner arising or accruing out of the marriage relation.” The specter of race and racial ideologies did not occupy a seat at the table. It may have hovered in the room. Money, wealth, power, and the loss of it were whips on Philip’s privileged flesh. It drove Philip’s father to kill William symbolically. In the end, the Rhinelander had to shield their raison d’etre from any offending invader whether poor, Irish or Colored.

Now, back to Philip. It is clear that the Rhinelanders were elite snobs, who viewed other non-society folks through downcast eyes. Despite such elitism and perhaps racism, Kip could sow his royal oats with racial filth and secretly entertain other flirtations. However, he could not marry low caste or racial trash. That was William’s and Kip’s unpardonable offenses. And these breaches of social etiquette and racial codes were most threatening to the Rhinelander clan because they carried unacceptable wealth implications. Hence, in a choice between love, tenderness, and happiness on the one hand, and power, wealth and status on the other, William and Kip had to embrace the family credo: absens haeres non erit (an absent person will not inherit). This credo required William’s “death” because it kept Margueretta and her children from getting anything. Yet, I imagine that Philip suffered greatly when William was so humiliated and roundly rejected, and so for his own selfishness, he’d not visit such disgrace on Kip, who by all appearances was not as resolute as William. Rather than destroyed Kip, Philip targeted Alice. Philip cynically used race and racial ideologies. Slight diminution of Rhinelander wealth by Alice survived Kip would garner no sympathetic appeal. (Alice’s annuity of $3,600.o0 per year amounted to 0.004 of Philip Rhinelander’s gross estate.) Racism coupled with a dark, wily vamp who stole her way into an easily influenced Kip’s heart would sell. Such a theory might sway a proper jury. It certainly sold lots of newspapers. If Philip used race and racial ideologies cynically, even if he were privately a racist snob, then something else, even besides property and wealth, was at stake. After privileging race and racial ideologies in her argument, and after interlacing them deftly with culture, privilege, and property, Smith-Pryor hints at other equally powerful motives for Rhinelander v. Rhinelander. However, she doesn’t gumshoe these pulp-novel threads down the mental dark allies where they scurry and hide.

What could be more powerful than race and racial ideologies, especially in a legal narrative that culturally situated in the Jim Crow 1920s, and more pointedly, what scurries and hides in the recesses of our minds? Typical of the times, the Rhinelander fathers were rulers, and they more than likely engaged in emotional if not physical maltreatment of their children. Consider what William risked. He risked everything for love, emotional touch, and real companionship. He wanted to marry not for more money but for love. Despite his father’s appeal to either not marry her or to abandon her after he did, William, who was named after his father, did not relent, having been perhaps ordered about and humiliated for the last time. For his refusal, William humiliated his son by denying him what he clearly viewed as vital to the Rhinelander clan: money, society, and power.

Consider Kip and the effects of his maltreatment. He suffered a stutter, which we know today at the very least suggests emotional abuse. He was more than likely emotionally broken. For example, Alice’s letter reveals her frustration with Kip’s fear, inability, or unwillingness to stand up to his father, Philip. Even if she were cynically motivated, she pled with him to take control of his own life. Irked by Kip’s diffidence, Alice wrote: “I will help you fight [your father] . . . . If you only had a trade, and you would not after look forward, for your father’s help.”

Another effect of emotional maltreatment was Kip’s learning challenges and physical awkwardness. Kip, taught by private tutors, was a slow but an eventual learner. Judge Mill and Leon Jacobs relied on Kip’s emotional challenges to argue that Alice had easily duped him. Less than 18 years old, and perhaps exhibiting too few fruits of his father’s efforts, Philip “dropped him off at a Connecticut institute for nervous and mental disorders and never visited him.” Philip either didn’t care about Kip, or he’d never forged a close, emotionally supportive relationship with his son. Regardless, Kip had to feel abandoned, perhaps again. If he had an emotional ally and supporter, it was Kip’s mother, Adelaide Kip, who died unexpectedly from burns when he was 12. This sudden loss would have been bewildering and traumatizing, especially if he were different from his siblings, not close to his father, and in need of special care and emotional feeding. If Philip at the very least emotionally maltreated him, then Kip also lost in his mother a protector. Adelaide thus would have been Kip’s “helping witness.” According to Alice Miller, a helping witness is:

someone who acts (routinely, or even once at a critical time) with kindness toward the child and who somehow, by looking into the child's eyes, shows the child another way to live and be. This helper may have no idea of his or her role but nonetheless acts as a counterweight to the cruelty or neglect a child experiences.

According Alice Miller’s For Your Own Good (2002), the “helping witness” offers love, compassion, and kindness to the maltreated child, so that she does not completely identify with her tormentor, and thus believe that the world at large is violent and must be dealt with accordingly. By the time Adelaide passed, Kip had already experienced life-shaping maltreatment, even if his mother blunted her husband’s power to thoroughly poison him. Stuttering thus reveals the emotional and psychological effect of Philip’s suffocating control and perhaps emotional indifference. Although he had no conscious ill will toward Philip, Kip’s body retained a memory of the repression, which impacted his ability to speak fluently and forcefully. This inability confessed Kip’s willingness to suppress what his body knows. Kip, in order to live with his parents, especially Philip, and around his siblings, had to suppress his hurt and angry feelings, which is self-denial and self-deception. Based on The Body Never Lies (2005), Alice Miller would argue that Kip “emotional traumas, repressed humiliation, and bottled rage can manifest themselves as serious adult health problems.”

Eventually, Kip’s self-deception caught up to him. He’d done as he was told. Dropping petitions and releasing all claims, Alice made the deal, and she submitted to the Nevada courts. They were finally divorced. She’d surrendered the Rhinelander brand. Philip’s wealth and the Rhinelander holdings were secured from this interloper. Alice agreed to an annuity, unfortunately without adjustments for present value. He and Alice never lived together again. Yet, I believe that Kip actually loved Alice. In her, he perhaps found what was lost in his mother’s sudden passing: love, support, acceptance, compassion, and strength. And yet, Kip kept repressed his deep pain over his childhood maltreatment and the then-present realization that he was controlled, weak, and broken, especially in having to give up Alice’s love. After the deal making, Kip worked for his father, and by the time he died at a very young age, he suffered from bloating, pneumonia, and perhaps deep loneliness. Having repressed his true feelings, Kip suffered lung ailments, which eventually suffocated him.

Despite what he suffered and how he lived, Kip unconsciously wanted to live an authentic life. By simply viewing the on-and-off again relationship between Kip and Alice through a racialized lens, Smith-Pryor’s narrative and analysis corral Kip and Alice’s amorous and nuptial doings simply within Jim Crow sensibilities, thus permitting us to downplay their powerful psychological and complex existential features. Indeed, Philip did control Kip and perhaps his other children with a powerful hand and economic blackmail. Alice thought of Kip as too yielding to his father’s wishes, especially because they kept Kip away from her. Yet, despite Kip’s apparent masochistic personality, which gave him a more subservient and surrendered acceptance of his father’s overpowering style, Stephen Johnson’s Character Styles (1994) would argue that Kip was really passive-aggressive and spiteful. Smith-Pryor use of the personal data between Kip and Alice revealed that he could be as controlling of her as he was perhaps controlled by his father. In this sense, Kip was not devoid of personal power; he’d rather deploy it in a non-confrontational way. For example, Kip, through a letter read by the Rhinelander lawyer, encouraged Alice to fight, and in so doing, Kip indirectly brought notoriety and ill-repute to Philip and the Rhinelander clan. Second by encouraging Alice to fight back, Kip indirectly placed at risk what Philip cherished more than he loved his own children: money, property, and wealth. Third, Kip also indirectly exposed his father to Alice’s alienation of affection claim for $500,000.00, and along with the judge’s sequestration of Kip’s income and property within New York, Philip begrudgingly sent his lawyer to the bargaining table. In this way, while he looked weak, withdraw, and diffident, Kip knew what frightened Philip, and rather than suffer the fate that befell his uncle, William, Kip drew Philip into a no-win legal battle with Alice, who he knew was strong and determined, and to the extent that he viewed Adelaide and Alice as genuinely devoted to his happiness and well-being, then Kip attempted to pay homage to both by inflicting a grievous wound in Philip’s soft underbelly: money.

In Rhinelander v. Rhinelander’s legal historical drama, do race and racial ideologies matter? Of course, they do. As Smith-Pryor aptly uncovers, this case and its handlers just exploited the cesspool of eugenics. It was not ultimately about these distractions, for the real soft underbelly was preventing Alice from relying on dower to influence the Rhinelander holdings and its wealth accretions. So, while race and racial ideologies were critically indispensable stage props, the case’s chorus was money and property, which posed characters and put words in their mouths. Together, race, racial ideologies, and property drove the case’s legal theory and courtroom tactics. But property was this play’s central character, which only takes on added meaning in Property Rites if Smith-Pryor would have followed the existential breadcrumbs that laid about this critically important legal narrative.

Yet, if race, society, whiteness, and property are the soft underbelly of Rhinelander v. Rhinelander, Smith-Pryor’s Property Rites shares a table at which other great luminaries like Sharon Davies, Rising Road (2009) and Kevin Boyle, Arc of Justice (2004) eat silver-plated dinners. In Rising Road (2009), Sharon Davies exquisitely accounts the race, whiteness, and religious context in which Edwin Stephenson, a Methodist minister, murdered James Doyle, a Catholic priest, after he married Stephenson’s daughter, Ruth, to Pedro Gussman, a Puerto Rican immigrant and practicing Catholic. As the Rhinelander clan had done to protect William and to annul his marriage to Margueretta, the future Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black argued that Stephenson was temporarily insane, and then he attempted to distract the jury with religious hysteria and with baiting claims that Pedro was really a “Negro.” In Arc of Justice (2005), Kevin Boyle’s award winning treatment masterfully retells the trial of Dr. Ossian Sweet and 10 others, including his wife Gladys, for the murder of Leon Breiner after a neighborhood improvement association and a mob of at least 600 surrounded his newly bought bungalow, all in the hopes of keeping this Detroit neighborhood lily white. In the masterful hands of Clarence Darrow, Sweet and the other defendants were acquitted, but having lost his infant daughter and shortly thereafter his wife, he was never the same. And despite his financial success, he declined, sold his house to another black family, moved into a flat above his pharmacy in the ghetto, and eventually put a bullet in his head.

Notwithstanding its overlooked but critically important and driving psychological and existential elements, which add but don’t detract from this contextualized work, Smith-Pryor’s Property Rites will be recognized for its textual richness, deep research, moving prose, and analytical power.

[1] Copyright © 2010 by Reginald Leamon Robinson. Professor of Law, Howard Law School, Washington, DC. B.A., Howard University (Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude), 1981; M.A., The University of Chicago (Political Science), 1983; Exchange Scholar (Political Science & Economics), 1984-85; J.D., The University of Pennsylvania, 1989. Of course, the politics and errata belong exclusively to me.