Note: Emotions and views surrounding corporal punishment are very strong and raw right now… but I’m not here to debate your feelings or coddle your visceral need to be violent towards people who are smaller than you. I’m here to talk about how we’re failing these kids.
Beating. Whuppin’. Whipping. Spanking. Choose whatever verb is most acceptable or familiar to you, it comes down to an adult hitting a child with something. Within the realm of corporal punishment, particularly in America, one may use either one of these words to determine the severity or assuage the guilt of inflicting pain on a child. Charles Barkley recently exemplified this when he make the distinction between a “beating” (which sounds awful – like something a cruel master would do to an insubordinate slave) and a “spanking” or a “whipping” (words which I suppose are supposed to conjure images of love?). Again, it doesn’t matter what you call it, the intent is to inflict pain on a child for some infraction, sometimes even imaginary ones.
Today, I’m going to keep my conversation centered around two groups: Black folk and church folk. If you find yourself in either category and are prone to offense, I’m going to warn you and give you the opportunity to stop reading now. Here’s a hint: my assessment doesn’t end well for you.
Still reading? Ahh, ok.
The conversation around the subject of beating children in recent days in light of the Adrian Peterson case has been absolutely heartbreaking, and quite frankly, revolting. The depths that Black folk and church folk have gone to to defend the act of taking a switch or belt or branch or extension cord to the tender flesh of their children has been staggering. I’ve seen comments where people say they’d beat the autism out of their kids, beat the gay out of their kids, beat some sense into their kids. These words are often written with the letters ‘lol’ following the statement, but you know the QWERTY Crusader opining on the issue isn’t sitting there laughing out loud. Their reaction at the thought of NOT beating their child for an infraction likely more resembles a smug, sinister grunt. And no one, I mean NO ONE, beats their children as frequently as church folk and Black folk. The numbers bear this out. 8/10 African Americans believe that spanking is an acceptable form of punishment compared to 7/10 whites who were surveyed. Asians numbers were even lower, with 47% of Asian males in favor of corporal punishment compared to 12% of Asian females. In the church, 8/10 born again Christians are in favor of spanking.
I understand these numbers, and before I became a reformed child beater (as of last week), I adhered to the reasons and social drivers that have contributed to these numbers. Blacks in America have carried on a tradition of beating their children into obsequiousness, often in the hope that it would keep them safe. Encountering a “sassy black gal” or “uppity negress” (terms which are still sprinkled over the internet today) would cause white lips to curl and often resulted in horrific rape and/or murder of the offender. In order to keep their children in line with society’s expectations that they be silent, second class citizens, Black parents beat their children at the moment sass, questioning or a challenge reared its head. The idea was – and still is – that if you beat the obstinateness, spunk and even the curiosity out of their children, it will somehow save their lives or set them on the course for future success. And yet, our prisons are filled with Black men and women who have had more than their fair share of beatings, while their absence is noted key decision making arenas across the country. May I humbly suggest that Black success experienced in this country is as a result of beating one’s children is in spite of its application, and not because of it?
The only thing beating your children does -or any living being for that matter – is it teaches them to fear their assailant…in this case YOU. Whipping someone is not an act of love. It is an act of rage. And before you get all “it’s a biblical principle” on me, let’s consider the two biblical principles that church folk are quick to quote in the midst of a good ol’ fashioned child-focused scourging:
- Spare the rod, and spoil the child.
- Pr 13:24 He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
- Pr 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.
- Pr 23:13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.
- Pr 23:14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
- Pr 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.
Notice I have no scriptural reference for the very first quote, because just like oft quoted “God helps those who help themselves” it’s not in the bible.
I went ahead and listed these without context because that’s what people who manipulate the bible for the benefit of their own agenda do. Let’s take Proverbs 29:15 for example, which implies that beating a child will eventually keep his mother from experiencing shame on account of his misdeeds. The same chapter goes on to say in verse 21 that “he who pampers his servant from childhood will have him as a son in the end”. So what are we to do? Pamper children into loving us or scourge them into obedience in lieu of it? Perhaps beating your children is not a biblical requirement. Maybe there are other, less violent ways to bring your children into alignment.
The average American Christian’s relationship with children (not just their own) is a reflection of their relationship with God, and usually it’s a screwed up relationship. Too many are locked in a cycle of breach of law, expecting severe chastisement from God, pleading for forgiveness and reoffending. They then impose this dysfunctional relationship on their children.
I had a neighbor who had taken on the care of her 6 year old grandson named Shiloh. At 6, he was still wetting the bed. Her response was to whip his behind. At least 3 times a week, Shiloh would get a whipping for peeing in the bed because “he was too big for that”. She would often tell me with pride how she “beat his ass” every time he wet the bed. And yet, the more she beat him, the more he peed, which she then read as willful defiance. Eventually it was discovered that his incontinence was as a result of some pretty f*cked up potty training tactics he was subjected to when he was a toddler. How much pain and effort could both have them been spared if she had opted to investigate his background first and rely on archaic Negro/Christian ideas about how disciplining the child made her a good grandma last?
If we think about the rod in Psalms 23, where David says the Lord’s “rod and staff” are a comfort, can we really (and logically) assume that God beating him in the Valley of the Shadow of Death give him the warm and fuzzies? Shepherd do not use rods to beat their sheep: they use it to change or keep them on course and out of harm.
I have been accused of thinking I am better than other parents because I no longer opt to spank my kids. I know that people making these assertions are doing so out of their own sense of guilt and reluctance to do the hard work of thoughtful childrearing. I don’t combat their allegations. After all, from the beginning of my life as a parent, I relied on spanking because it was the right thing to do. Spanking has been handed down for generations and I and many people inherited it. Women I respect have advised me on what instruments to beat my children with (wooden spoons, fly swatters and paint stirrers) in the quest to quell ‘foolishness’. However, after much reflection, I have discovered that there is a difference between foolishness and childishness. Childish behavior has everything to do experience and the lack thereof. Foolishness is generally the province of adults who have had the benefit of wider experience, and in my estimation, makes grown-ups better candidates for a good spanking. Too many parents are bullying and punishing children merely for being children.
My younger sister is my model for many things, and though I gave birth first, she has surpassed me in terms of being an exemplary mother. She recounted an exchange she had with her four year old son with me.
“Mommy, can I climb on shelf?” he asked.
“No,” she said firmly.
“But why not?”
As you can imagine, they have had this conversation numerous times before. She looked up from her whatever she was reading and looked him in the eye.
“You tell me ‘why not’.”
My nephew thought about it for a moment and replied, “Because I’ll fall down?”
“And then what will happen.”
“And then I’ll get hurt?”
“Do you want to get hurt?”
“Are you going to climb the shelf?”
And away he went.
Children are far more intelligent than we give them credit for, and they learn by repetition. As a culture, I think we would do better and go farther if we relied on our words more and our fists less.