As a child and well into adulthood, most folks I know have swapped stories about epic beatdowns they caught at the hands of a parent, grandparent, or guardian of some sort. Picking switches, catching hands if the switch wasn’t big or strong enough, watching one’s parent pull an extension cord from the tool drawer in the kitchen, and receiving a blow for each syllable the parent spoke and wondering how they suddenly became so unusually wordy in the process. Many of us know the drill and many of us look back at these incidents and laugh. We chuckle at the time we tried to run from the whoopin’, only to get it worse than we would’ve had we been still. We belly laugh while reflecting on the time we attempted, successfully or unsuccessfully to grab the whoopin’ tool of choice mid-spank only to heighten the intensity of the torture. Often, one ends an epic ass beatin’ tale with some sort of wistful statement like, “What was I thinking?” or “If only I’d listened, I wouldn’t have gotten whooped.” Even parents get into the spanking discussion bragging about how many marks they left, their ability to dish out the correction sans marks, how many times the child danced in a circle trying to escape the belt, and how he/she never tried such a thing again. I’ve certainly told and heard my share of spanking stories and I had the accompanying robust chuckle to go with it, but the older I get, the more I wonder if any of it is actually funny.
If I Don’t Hit You, The Police Will
Like many, I was raised in a traditional Christian church. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” was the general sentiment of parents and all of them felt justified in hitting their children if it meant keeping them in line. After all, “It’s better I beat them than for the police to do it” right? Though I think I understand what folks who believe this mean, I have to say it isn’t really logical, especially when considering the many folks who have been verbally and/or physically harassed, falsely accused and/or arrested, sexually assaulted, and beaten and/or killed by the police were from homes in which parents doled out beatdowns like morning Flintstone vitamins. Black reality has repeatedly shown us good manners, impeccable fashion sense, perfect diction, and even good posture cannot save Black folks from the police. I would venture to say childhood spankings don’t do it either.
Sometimes, I hear parents say they hit their children because they need them to develop a healthy fear of their authority figures. I understand. The belief is if the children are afraid, they will comply to avoid physical consequences and on the surface, it makes sense. Unfortunately, this line of thinking is generally about parents mistaking fear for respect. Many slaves obeyed their masters. They were quiet whilst uttering an occasional “nossuh/yassuh” as they bowed and scraped while careful not to make eye contact. But none of that was respect. It was fear – the emotion that breeds contempt, resentment, hatred, distrust, and destroys the will to think of ways to be and live better. If getting one’s child in line is only achieved by frightening the spirit out of that child and giving birth to contempt, I feel it’s safe to say it is time to look for alternatives.
I know the common thought about how there are so many white serial killers, white collar thieves, trust fund miscreants, and even little baby whites throwing retail store tantrums while screaming at their parents because they all got time outs instead of whoopins, but is that really what it is? My mother wasn’t one for a lot of corporal punishment, but in my upbringing, what affected me most was her being disappointed or disgusted with me, not her using a belt to try to get me in line. It was my desire to make her proud of me that kept me well behaved, not the threat of the belt, which only made me afraid.
I Hit You Because I Love You
I think I would have a difficult time telling my hypothetical child to steer clear of romantic partners who put their hands on her while she’s stands listening to me still aching from the last time I beat her. I think I’d have an even harder time telling her I spank her because I love her but a man who hits her doesn’t love her at all. It’s a powerful mixed message I wouldn’t want to send. I have witnessed children flinch from fear whenever their parents call their names or do something simple like reach out to fix the child’s collar or zip up his/her coat. Once, after putting hands on my friend, her mother came downstairs and lamented to me about how tired she was from spanking her daughter because “It just takes so much out of you.” She sighed deeply, smiled to herself, then treated herself to some lemonade and a talk show. I just sat there silently because I was too afraid to go up those stairs to check on my friend. I needed to save my own hide.
We Have To Do Better
Ever since the movement to stop child abuse by informing children they could call the police if they are the victims of abuse, parents everywhere, mostly Black folks, have made numerous jokes about breaking a child’s fingers for trying to dial 9-1-1 or about taking them down before they can even get to a phone. Others have complained about police beating and killing children but not being able to hit their children themselves. Something is wrong when folks start to lament their inability to cause bodily harm to their children. People are literally fighting for the right to hit their children and they don’t seem to understand the abusive nature of their complaints. My mother always told me I am obligated to do better once I know better and I subscribe to those words daily. It all leaves me wondering if we are really helping our children by beating them or if we are damaging their trust in us and causing them to fear and resent us instead of respecting us. Maybe that rod isn’t the belt or switch we always thought it was. ©