Where do you draw the line between spankings and corporal punishments?
If you didn’t have the stomach to watch it, you’ve almost certainly heard about it: an enraged father, captured on video issuing a colossal beatdown on his two teenage daughters who, moments before he caught them, had been twerking and booty popping. I suspect the girls in it were probably going to upload their rump-shaking to YouTube or send it to World Star Hip Hop. Instead, their daddy was the one who ended up becoming the overnight sensation in their little amateur flick and, after getting more than two million views across the web, he was arrested for child endangerment.
It was 30 seconds of ugliness picked up by just about every Black news site and naturally became the subject of hot conversation across social media. I am the duchess of fiery Facebook debates and this footage of raw parental fury sparked my latest round of discussion, mostly because so many—too many—Black folks were in agreement with his impulse to assault his children with a cable cord. There was a chorus of backup threats to the tune of “I’da beat the living daylights outta them, too.”
Given the fact that the girls, one 12 and the other 14, had also recently gotten in trouble for sneaking out of the house, and with video chicks and denigrating lyrics having such an unfortunate influence on young ladies, his amen corner believes he delivered a dose of act right to thwart their progressing debauchery. I guess a malicious whipping is their remedy against inevitably becoming strippers and streetwalkers. But you can’t beat it out of them. Their lack of self-respect starts in the mind and that’s where the corrective action needs to meet it.
Black folks believe in spankings. It’s a cultural norm, accented with funny anecdotes about picking your own switches and being mollywhopped with mama’s backhand from hell. For too many of us, doling physical discipline is our only form of punishment. But if it’s so effective as a standalone solution, then how come there are so many bad little kids exemplifying zero home training and acting the damn fool? Under a firestorm of regularly administered beatings, a lot of children are able to build up a tolerance, so much so that they become desensitized.
Case in point: last summer, when my car was in the shop and I was forced onto the grueling labyrinth of DC’s public transportation, I watched a mother on the bus snatch a boy who couldn’t have been more than four, yank his tiny arm into the air and pummel him like a throw rug. She knocked him so hard at one point that his little knees buckled underneath him and he dangled from the suspended wrist for a few seconds before he managed to scramble to his feet. I was horrified.
But you know what? Not even three minutes later he was right back to doing the same thing that got him pulverized in the first place. So that meant another beating, another set of howls and hollers, another round of sympathy from me. He and his frustrated, out-of-ideas mama repeated the process two more times in the 30 minutes it took to get home. That was a mighty long bus ride on that there day.
There’s spanking, there’s whooping and then there’s call-child-protective-services beating. When you’ve decided to check your kids’ behavior by administering corporal punishment, you need to know the difference between the three. If you’re coming from a place of blind fury, you’re not in any position to correct a child’s misdeeds, and you’re certainly not in a position to reinforce the lessons they need to learn to not do whatever they did wrong again. I’m not against judicious swats on the butt, but I like punishments that make kids think about what they did, that walk them through analysis of their own actions, which means being more creative than picking out which belt is going to have the most funk on it.
Once, when Girl Child was talking too much in school, I packed my laptop and sat right next to her all day. Detention and everything. If she could’ve willed herself into pixie dust and wafted away, she would have. I believe in doling out spankings—and I have done it when I saw fit, with much discussion afterward about why it happened and how she could prevent it from happening again—but I can guarantee The Day Mommy Came to School made way more of an impression than butt whooping #5,983.
Bottom line is this: Any form of corporal punishment that leaves welts and open sores on a child’s body is corporal punishment that has crossed over into abuse. And that’s not going to solve any problems—it’s going to exacerbate the ones that exist and create some new ones, too.
Janelle Harris is a writer, blogger and editor, and the owner of The Write or Die Chick , a boutique editorial services agency. She’s also a single mother, a proud Washington, DC girl and a longsuffering Kanye West fan. Chat her up on Facebook or Twitter.