How a viral TikTok video triggered a discussion about the trauma from Black parenting

OPINION: Most of our Black Boomer parents raised us based on the information they had at the time. But now, decades later, we can see that some serious mistakes were made.

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I saw this TikTok that started off really cute and sweet, but as it unfolded, I realized it was saying a lot about Black parenting. It was one of those TikToks I could write a whole thesis about, and it’s resonating with a lot of people—even though it came from an account that had 4,000 followers when it was posted, it’s gotten over 3.4 million views.

Lexy Rogers (@_lexyrogers) and her husband, Lewis Rogers, are a supercute, young Black couple with three kids under age 5. They had no idea they were about to go super viral when they set up her phone to record them playing Put a Finger Down: Black Moms Edition. But the video triggers people right away by giving us an onscreen chyron telling us that Lexy’s got a white mom and Lewis has a Black mom. Is this going to be the key differentiator between them? 

The voiceover goes through several phrases Black moms (and dads) are famous for saying, like “I’m not one of your little friends,” or “I am not Boo Boo the fool,” or “A hard head makes a soft behind.” As the VO moves through the list of sayings, Lewis steadily puts his fingers down, but Lexy does not. I can’t lie—as I watched, I was putting lots of fingers down, just like Lewis, and feeling myself aligned with him. I laughed along with him like, yeah, my parents used to say that stuff to me, too! Ha, ha, ha! 

At first, the sayings are kinda funny, like, “Do you got McDonald’s money?” But as the game goes on, they get, well, rougher. “Stop all that crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” And “Fix yo face!” And as the common old sayings get rougher, Lexy looks at her husband with a face full of sadness and empathy, and she starts caressing his face as if to console him. It’s like she senses that having heard all of this as a child means he’s been abused and maybe traumatized and now needs TLC. And I was like, wait a minute. I was putting a lot of fingers down, too. Was I…abused? Am I, perhaps, traumatized?

I believe that most of our Black Boomer parents, both moms and dads, raised us based on the information they had at the time about how to parent. But now, decades later, we can see that some very serious mistakes were made. This is not to condemn our parents but to say many of us were emotionally or psychologically damaged by their practices. It’s the same thing with the food they fed us. With love and affection, many Black parents in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s gave their kids lots of fried foods cooked with lots of oil and butter. Now we know that eating a lot of the old-school soul food we love can be harmful to our bodies—it can cause heart disease, liver disorders and diabetes. Nowadays, many of us try to eat in a healthier way because now we have information telling us all about that. 

Similarly, our parents said things to us that were inappropriate, abusive and demeaning, which negated us and rejected the emotions we felt as children, thus making it harder for us to have a healthy relationship with our feelings. I mean, “I’m not one of your little friends” is a demand for respect and authority. That’s fine; children need to learn boundaries, but saying, “I’ll give you something to cry about,” is a threat to do physical harm and a rejection of their feelings. You’re saying to the child your tears are unacceptable because nothing that bad has happened, but if you don’t stop crying, I will hit you hard enough that it will be understandable for you to cry this much. 

“A hard head makes a soft behind” is also a threat of violence or perhaps a promise of violence. “Fix your face” is also a rejection of the child’s feelings—it means stop being upset. How is a child supposed to do that? These are unhealthy comments from parents to children, and yet they’re also super common things that the older generation said to my generation when we were kids.

What impact has it had that millions of us were spoken to this way by our parents? Is it OK that we’ve normalized their behavior and that we laugh about it? Corporal punishment was also common in Black families when I was growing up—lots of Black kids were punished for infractions large and small by being hit with a belt or a hand or even a switch from a tree. This is abusive. Our parents were working with the best information they had—”Spare the rod, spoil the child” was another common saying—but we now understand that corporal punishment is destructive parenting. 

I can hear many people saying, well, I heard all that stuff, and I got beat as a kid, and I turned out fine. OK, but how much better and healthier would you be if your parents had not spoken to you in demeaning ways? Or if they had not beaten you? And do you really think that we always know and recognize the impact of trauma? I got spanked many, many times when I was a kid, and in retrospect, having my father, who was then about three times my size, grab me and forcefully whack my butt several times as hard as he could, was traumatizing. Many Black parents in my generation have said they would be different—they would not hit their kids, and they would not say demeaning things to their kids. But having a conversation about what the older generation did to us is still very difficult—we don’t want to implicate our parents.

Lexy and Lewis’ TikTok brings us into all of that in a light-hearted way. There’s no big conclusion; the game of Put a Finger Down just stops, and they turn off the camera. But by then, I was already thinking about Black parenting and how my parents gave me lots of incredible gifts, but they also screwed me up. Lexy and Lewis’ video opened the door to all of that for me, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. 

I wrote a much shorter version of the above sentiments under an Instagram post about Lexy and Lewis’ video, and moments later, Lexy popped up to respond to my comment. I DM’d her, and a few hours later, I was on the phone with her and her husband. She said she was a bit thrown off by how viral the post had gone and the backlash from people who attacked her as “not Black” because she’s biracial and those who thought she was using the video to critique Black mothers, which is weird because she is a Black mother. 

“It’s not like I’m tearing people down and saying, oh, well, your life would have been better if your mother wasn’t Black,” she said. “No. I don’t think it has anything to do with that. I just think your life would have been a little bit better if you weren’t talked down to so much.” 

Also, her white mother recalls saying those things to her. “I talked to my mom, and she was, like, I feel like I’ve said some of those things to you! I was like if you did, it was not enough that it made an impact.” 

Lexy said the TikTok wasn’t intended to be a comment about mothers—her dad is Black, and she heard some hurtful things from him. She said the larger point is that sometimes parents put their stresses on their kids. 

“I think that people do the best that they can, and I think that Black women have it really rough, and I think it shows sometimes in the way that we parent our children, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not something that hurts the kids,” she said. 

Some Black parents feel like the world is tough, cold and racist, and we need to prepare our children for that world by being tough on them at home because the world will be tough on them. But in many cases, children don’t need to be toughened up at home; they need to be coddled and nurtured and know that home is where they’ll always be loved and accepted. 

“The world is harsh enough,” Lexy said. “If my children can have any safe space, it should be at home. My parents were really strict, but they didn’t say a lot of things that were extremely hurtful, and it was a little easier when people were racist or when Black people made fun of me for being white or whatever. Like, I learned very quickly that the world is a really harsh place, and I felt a certain comfort at home. And I thought that was important. That’s something that Lewis didn’t necessarily feel as much as I did. And we tried to give that to our kids.”        

One recurring element in the old-school Black parent sayings is the rejection of children’s feelings. The idea that you shouldn’t be sad or upset perpetuates a sort of Black stoicism—that we should meet life’s challenges without complaint. But nowadays, we know that all Black people are the victims of intergenerational trauma and that letting your feelings out, or at least being aware of them, is far healthier than just pushing through them. This stands in direct contrast to what the older generation was teaching us in their sayings. We first learn how to deal with our emotions when we’re children, so it’s important for parents to respect children’s emotions even if they seem extreme.

“I heard somebody say children have all the same emotions that we do just in smaller bodies and with less experience with controlling them,” Lexy said. “I’m not going to tell my kid to stop crying. If I just said, you can’t have a candy, to them, that’s a big deal. It’s OK if they cry. I’m not going to be like, ‘this is not worth you crying over. I’ll give you something that’s actually worth you crying over,’ which always indicates either some type of pain or other punishment for them like outwardly expressing their feelings.” 

Lewis blamed himself for some of his interactions with his parents. “I wasn’t necessarily the best-behaved child, so, in some cases, I needed some discipline, especially while being raised by a single mother.” 

This is natural though misguided—he wasn’t a truly bad kid, and a child is not responsible for their relationship with their parents. He also said the interactions had a lasting impact on him. “It does become hurtful, and being a child, I can’t go out here to friends and talk to them about it,” he said. “They’re not going to understand because it’s a universal Black language and you’re not understanding how to navigate those emotions so like you’re deeply wounding kids, I mean emotionally, and we’re left with figuring out how to deal with it for the rest of our lives.”

I think modern Black parents have made a conscious break from many of the things our parents said and did. Before we had children, my wife informed me that we would not ever spank our kids. I was a bit surprised—it was all that I knew. Sometimes children need to be spanked, right? I did some reading and found out how harmful it can be, and I agreed to commit to never spanking my kids. I didn’t, and I think they’re better for it. I love my parents, but I think we can both love our parents and admit that they made mistakes just as we can say 99 percent of TikToks are silly, but every once in a while, you’ll find a TikTok that gets pretty deep.


 Touré is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books.

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