Each Thursday, our “We Need To Talk About…” column will explore a different issue.
By Michael Harriot
I’ve never been spanked.
I’ve been “whooped.” I’ve had to pick out my own switch. I “got beatings,” but I don’t ever remember received a spanking.
Before she whipped out her belt, my mother would make sure I knew what I had done wrong. Almost every whipping would begin with the same phrase. “Now that you know better, I’m gonna make sure you DO better.”
I’ve heard all the arguments for corporal punishments. “I’d rather go to jail for whipping my children than have them go to jail for not being whipped.” Some argue that the world issues beatings much worse than a loving parent. Countless children have had a parent tell them “I do this because I love you.”
Perhaps the most ubiquitous of them all is the all-encompassing “My parents beat me, so (insert narcissistic result here).” I’ve had a friend who dropped out of high school and had recently finished a third jail sentence explain to me that you had to whip your kids because the childhood whippings he received made him a better person. I wished he had a famous, national morning hip hop radio show, because I wanted to ask, “How, Sway?” But he obviously didn’t have the answers.
We can use euphemistic, academic terms to describe corporal punishment, but let’s just call it what it is: Violence.
I know it sounds harsh, but that is a fact not up for dispute. One can argue about intention, effectiveness or a myriad of other variables, but hitting someone for whatever reason is using violence to achieve a result–whether the result is retribution, punishment, or learning a lesson.
I believe using violence as discipline or a tool for teaching lessons is a perhaps the longest-lasting and most pervasive remnant of slavery. It is a relic passed down from plantations and whipping posts that we have embraced, adopted and fed to subsequent generations like a poison heirloom. Conscious, woke Hoteps will quickly chide others for accepting the White Jesus given to us by our slavemasters (Even though Christianity was in West Africa centuries before Europeans came to America) or lament at how people of color have been brainwashed to value lighter skin and “good hair,” but remain mute on the most destructive vestige of slavery–the brutality of instilling fear to maintain authority and regulate behavior.
I’m not saying this particular kind of violence is unique to Black people or not as prevalent among other races–Science says it. According to numerous studies (and by “numerous, I mean almost every one ever done), African Americans are more likely to favor corporal punishments than any other race.
Trust me, I understand why. The stakes are higher for us. Often single mothers are forced into the unnatural role of disciplinarian and use a heavy hand to ensure their child doesn’t devolve into a black statistic. It is difficult to simultaneously buck the realities of nature, numbers, conditioning and history.
The question is: Is it effective?
This is where the argument lies. Issuing a beating might be harsh, but it might work as a deterrent or motivator. If a child abstains from a behavior because of the threat of violence, are they learning the heart of the lesson, or are they simply responding to the fear of the punishment? If you can make a child understand (through explicit lessons and by the behavior of those they emulate) why talking back or violating ethical or moral codes is wrong, do you necessarily need a switch?
The facts don’t bear it out. There is no correlation between people who were spanked and success, no matter how you measure it, in fact:
- The American Academy for Pediatrics say that 80% of U.S. prisoners received some sort of spanking as a child.
- According to the US Census, the States with the highest percentage of corporal punishment also have the lowest numbers of college graduates.
- Children who receive corporal punishment are more likely to have behavioral problems.
Aside from the statistics, there is a greater point: Maybe corporal punishment does not ruin our children. Maybe it does not make our children more aggressive and prone to violence. Maybe it does not condition our children to believe that any behavior is ok–as long as you don’t get caught doing it. Maybe it doesn’t fortify a Machiavellian belief that the end justifies a means where right and wrong is only defined by if there is a whip at the end of an action…
What if it is just mean and lazy?
I have a Great Dane. When he was a puppy I wanted to teach him to stay out of the kitchen. A friend suggested that I get a shock collar and shocked him every time he went into the kitchen. Instead I got a trainer who taught him by giving him treats and learning the phrase “Out the kitchen!” It took a while, but I didn’t have to inflict pain to teach him. When I told the trainer about my friend’s plan, she informed me that it wouldn’t have worked anyway. I asked her why and she said:
“You couldn’t have shocked him when you weren’t here, or when you weren’t looking. You wouldn’t have taught him not to come in the kitchen. You would have taught him not to let you see him in the kitchen.”
I believe myself to be a reasonably intelligent, articulate man. I believe I can teach my children without smacking them. It will probably be harder and more time-consuming, but I think I am smarter than a shock collar and I pray my offspring is smarter than a dog.
I don’t want this to sound like a condemnation of how anyone raises their children, nor do I want to insinuate that anyone who corporal punishment does not love their children. Sometimes we do what is easy, expedient, and most frequently, what we know.
But suppose there was a better way? What if there was a way that isn’t steeped in the illogic of neanderthal thinking and slave tradition? What if there was a way that didn’t rely on fear and didn’t require violence?
You know there is.
And now that you know better…