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Black Parents & Spanking

When I attend get togethers of black family and friends, the bonds of shared culture and history radiate effortlessly over good food and wine. We talk about what all parents talk about—our kids.

We delve deep into test scores, sports and teachers. My friends and I share values and big dreams for our babies. We hope that none of them get mistaken for drug dealers. Even more, we hope that none of them become drug dealers.

Sometimes, we get around to the subject of discipline. I cringe as they joke about white people being soft with their kids. It is true that most of my white mom friends do not practice corporal punishment.

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When I attended mommy and me groups as a new mother, the hot topic among mainstream mommies was the merit of time-out versus time-in. Most of my black friends and family would heckle such a debate. Everyone would laugh at the ridiculousness of white folks and their weak parenting styles.

I usually change the subject or excuse myself to the restroom.

My friends know that this is one of those areas where I feel more Berkeley than black. By Berkeley, I mean new age, holistic and tolerant.

On a reality show called Hollywood Exes, a group of black wealthy women, one of whom was once married to the likes of Will Smith, badgered the only white woman on the cast to slap her teenage daughter just one time. This was their wise advice to a single mom who was struggling to balance it all. The black castmates inferred that the white female cast member was an example of what is wrong with white mothers everywhere: They never take the time to instill fear.

For the record, my black mother’s form of discipline was to look at me quizzically. It worked. My father gave me two spankings in my lifetime. He apologized for both. My Black Panther, Vietnam Vet dad explained that our race has many issues because of our history. Generations prior had to beat their kids to scare them so that the children would not act out in slave quarters and be sold, tortured or killed. Today, black parents use this same argument in regard to law enforcement. I have heard many friends say, “I’d rather kick his ass good than have him sass off to a cop one day.” My dad refused to model the behavior of slave masters. His siblings called him a “sucka'” for not being harder on me.

It may silence the noise, but physical violence never resolves the core parenting conflicts.

My parents and I are not alone in this alternate way of thinking in our community. This form of discipline is so accepted in the African American community, however, that an author named Asadah has published a book Beating Black Kids. She advocates online and on the streets of Harlem to combat parents’ backward attitudes about hitting their children.

As a parent, I confess that I have slapped my son's hands a few times when he was 3 or 4 years old. I was tired and he was hitting me. Our power struggle had drained the good sense out of me. I felt horrible as his eyes widened in fear. I reminded myself of my values and apologized to my kid for dehumanizing him.

It may silence the noise, but physical violence never resolves the core parenting conflicts. My relatives who were beaten the most were the first ones in jail. I was beaten the least. I was an honor student who worked part-time, volunteered and led organizations.

People usually compliment me on how well-behaved our kids are. They do not curse, scream, fight or mouth off much. They are A and B students. They are mostly kind. They are not superstars or delinquents; they are normal. They also never have to worry that I will assault them.

My anecdotal evidence is supported by science. Spanking is not an effective form of discipline. Most experts argue that the practice is destructive. Despite these facts, black folks actually brag about hitting their offspring. Earlier this year, Young Jeezy, a rapper, vehemently denied child abuse charges. He was accused of dragging his 17-year-old son across the floor and of throwing him into a shower door.

I learned of the accusations while listening to a nationwide top urban hip-hop station. The program host said that he did not know if the charges were true, but he could identify with how hard it is to be a parent. He went on to say that he was on Young Jeezy’s side. This same radio host passionately rails against violence in the black community, but when it comes to parent versus child, common sense and compassion seem to be lost.

The host went on to explain that in our community, elders set you straight. With an inkling of nostalgia, he told a story about an uncle hitting him in the face for mouthing off to his mom.

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This cultural norm is wrong for so many reasons. I understand the human instinct to yield your physical power over a youngster. What I don’t get is why people would boast about this choice. The few times that I yielded to this instinct, I felt like a failure. A brute. An idiot.

My high school yearbook quote was, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” With incarceration rates among African Americans being as high as they are, we should admit that corporal punishment is part of the problem.

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This article was first published in March 2014.

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