You Shouldn’t Be Proud of Beating Your Kids

With this never-ending tragedy of home crimes revolving around the NFL, we’ve now transitioned from one form of domestic violence to another — from beating your spouse to now beating your child, thanks to accusations against Minnesota Vikings player Adrian Peterson. When Ray Rice was caught on video tape punching his then fiance, there were those few murky Ray Rice defenders, but there were many more people and players admonishing Rice. Punching your partner is wrong, almost everyone seemed to agree. Knocking her out is violent abuse. But Peterson gets accused of hitting his four-year-old and the response among some African Americans is a bit more problematic. A lot of “Yeah, but …” mixed in with the “child abuse is wrong.” Instead the message is more “child abuse is relative and yeah, I was beat, and I turned out fine, so don’t try to convince me otherwise, but people should be allowed to beat their kids, here’s a Bible quote that backs my belief system.”

But probably the most bizarre are always the people who are “proud” of being beat and “proud” of beating their kids. These individuals are always the loudest, as if not understanding how uncouth the whole mess is, that it’s not necessarily anything to be proud of and even if you’re fine with corporal punishment, why oh why would how violent a beating is be a regular competition among black people when the beatings got mixed results at best? For every kid that turned out fine for being beat, there’s an entire prison system filled with kids who were beat and for which it did no good and may have even made things worse. So why so much pride in a system that seems arbitrary in whether it works or not?

As my mother always said, “They beat the slave and the slave still wanted to be free.”

I’ve written about this subject in the past. My parents were “beat” as kids and as adults made the conscious decision to not beat myself and my sisters. It was my mother’s idea and my father went along with it, despite initially being pro-corporal punishment, until he was faced with actually having to hit one of us. He couldn’t bring himself to physically assault the child he loved more than himself, so he resigned to just threatening whoopings that never came when we were very little. To my father’s credit, his voice was very loud and forceful, so we tended to obey out of just wanting him to stop scaring us.

My sisters and I all managed to grow into respectable members of society. This was because our parents preferred to “out-smart” us when we wouldn’t mind. It also helped that our mother stayed at home with us, giving her more time with us in general and she had a lifetime of experience of helping raise her siblings and cousins, as well as her work as as school teacher. She was engineered to raise and nurture children. It’s a passion she still has today. I’m not quite sure what my mother did to us to make us so well behaved other than it was clearly mind control. My sisters and I were insanely easy children to manipulate. We adored our parents so much and wanted their love and attention so much that usually knowing they were unhappy with us was enough to get us to straighten out. This even continued to work well into the teenage years when I used to fight with them almost every other day. No matter how I bristled at my parents’ strictness and their rules, I would not break them. I didn’t want to disappoint them. We had a lot of trust built up between us and I never wanted to violate their trust, even if I thought their rules were unfair.

As a child and teen, I often did not relay to my peers that my household was anti-corporal punishment. Mostly because to not beat — when so many people endorse beating — makes you an outlier. It was the same reason I didn’t tell people my family didn’t impose religion on us, wanting us to choose our own belief system and path as adults. But because corporal punishment was so commonplace among my peers, you could easily tell the kids what kind of “beatings” they were dealing with. From those whose parents had a looser commitment to buttwhippings, to the guilt-riddled whippers of shame, to the ones who clearly didn’t know what they were doing, the “I’m beating you so the police won’t have to” parents and, finally, the kids who were abused.

The ones with a “looser commitment” basically believed the same as my parents, but felt a lot of pressure, either from a spouse or another family member, to beat their kid when they got out of line. This parent would begrudgingly go through the motions and the whipping seemed embarrassing for both parties involved. No one liked the process. The parent did it because they felt like they had to, and the same parent was more than happy to give up the process after the child reached a certain age, usually 10 or 12.

The guilt-riddled ones were the one’s who would give conflicting messages, beating their kids for slights real and imagined out of this belief they had to do it in order to instill order, but then, would feel so bad for laying hands on their child they’d take them out for ice cream afterwards. These kids were almost always pretty confused by it all and by the time they were teenagers used this to manipulate their always guilty feeling parents. You act out, you get beat, your father buys you a Dooney & Burke purse. Rinse, repeat. Nothing was learned.

The ones who clearly had no clue of what they were doing had no real rules for what constituted a paddling and what didn’t. They just knew they were supposed to beat their kids, so they did. But there was no consistency in what got you beat and what didn’t. There was no consistency in if it was a lashing or just a few swats. It was often more embarrassing than violent.

The parents who beat out of the belief that this would keep their children on the straight and narrow path had a clear system for when to hit and when to not, and were acting on this because it was how they were raised and they believed it was what kept them on the straight and narrow. They would often announce before hitting that “this hurts me more than it hurts you” or “I’m beating you today so the police won’t have to tomorrow.” It wasn’t quite child abuse, but it wasn’t quite not either. But there was a sensible logic to it that could be respected, even if you didn’t agree.

The last group, it was clearly child abuse, but because so many kids got hit in lesser ways, these kids didn’t now how to really assess if what was happening was really abuse. They just knew it was wrong to get beat until there were welts or bruises, to get beat arbitrarily or for things beyond their control, to get beat when a parent was angry and taking out that anger on them, to get the self-esteem beat out of them until they felt unloved and as if no one else would ever love them.

But the most disturbing of all, that in all these groups the kids and their parents bragged about the beatings, which even back then, seemed gauche to me, making all corporal punishment equal — even the worse kind.

Whether or not you choose to hit your child, that is a personal choice. There obviously is a way to hit a child that isn’t excessive. Whether or not all hitting is psychologically damaging depends on which research you believe. I personally don’t believe in corporal punishment, but, again, I was raised in a non-corporal punishment household. I am obviously biased. But I wish more black people would get away from this notion that hitting a child is something to be proud of because it coincidentally gives cover to parents who are actually abusing their children violently. By covering all beatings under the guise of  proper discipline, you give protection to those who smack their children around and beat them for things they cannot control, who take things too far when disciplining and are unnecessary violent and cruel. We all agree that child abuse is wrong, but when we’re quick to defend the indefensible out of fear we will be judged for our parenting choices, we are endorsing a violent scourge that breaks children and destroys families.

Beating your kid shouldn’t be something to brag about. Mostly because it makes you sound ridiculous. It reeks of desperation of wanting your parenting style to be endorsed and high-fived when your system doesn’t necessarily yield any better results than my parents choosing not to hit. It doesn’t make any more sense than if I went around bragging about not being hit. Who would brag about that, shaming and looking down on others, announcing that you are better than those who hit? It’s sounds ludicrous either way because it negates the personal experiences of others. It makes it seems like there is only one way of doing things, only one right way of living, only one true choice, when there are many choices in how to parent a child. The only wrong one is child abuse.

My father, jokingly, said to me that he obviously was not a “good black parent” because he didn’t hit his daughters. He “failed” at black parenting because he “loved us” too much. But isn’t it odd that “good” black parenting is stereotyped by African Americans themselves as “beat your children?” Not love your children. Or nurture your children. Or educate your children, but beat them. That we, ourselves, would define it that way. Why would how you choose to discipline matter more than how you choose to love?

What does beating your kids have to do with being black?

4 thoughts on “You Shouldn’t Be Proud of Beating Your Kids

  1. I believe in corporal punishment but only as a last resort and after all other disciplinary tactics have failed. Also, corporal punishment and beatings are not synonymous terms. I agree that, for those of us who use corporal punishment to discipline our kids, we need to adhere to guidelines. There is a clear difference between using a belt and using a bat. There is too much loose talk in our community about corporal punishment, and we need to stop that.

  2. I rarely spank anyone. But I’m definitely not anti-corporal punishment. It’s just not something that should be used as a primary form of punishment and never in anger.
    And for the umpteenth time – spanking and beating are not the same thing. A few swats on the behind or hand is not the same as someone taking a switch to your body.

  3. You shouldn’t be ashamed or bullied about spanking your children either. Danielle, you are much better than this essay. It is all over the place and filled with the kind of false analogies and overblown statements that you regularly summarily dispatch within the pages of this blog.

    First, as others have alluded to, “beatings” is highly prejudicial language. Your consistent use of the term without qualification undermines the essay. Equally provocative is the clumsy way network journalists – clearly unfamiliar with the term -breaking the story described a switch as a “tree branch” leaving many viewers with the image of AP beating his child with a piece of hardened wood.

    Let me be clear that I am not here to support savage beatings with small appliances and/or any small object within reach by an emotionally out-of-control parent. But, employing corporal punishment can be a thoughtful, measured and fair tool to teach a child consequences and deterrence. My mother used a belt when I was small. It would only be a few licks and never to the point of leaving any injury. She was always calm but let me know at the onset her displeasure and disappointment. She delivered the licks and afterwards would reiterate her expectations. When I was older, she implemented a system of delivering licks with a long handled wooden spoon to the palm. There was a designated number of licks corresponding to certain infractions. It stung like crazy but did not bruise or scar. Less than a minute after the lick was delivered, the pain was gone.

    My parents were teachers. My father has a Masters and was also a Principal. They stressed respect, achievement, manners, and morals. They let me know that they DID NOT care how other people raised their children and I WOULD follow the rules and values set by them.

    Honestly, I didn’t earn many instances of corporal punishment because I was a pretty good kid — a Honors student and school leader. I actually never give my upbringing in that regard a second thought. I am grateful for it. You say the results are mixed for spanking. Well, so are the results for nonspanking parenting. I see plenty of kids who curse, spit on and physically assault their parents who were never spanked. What of kids who take guns to school and murder their classmates? They weren’t all spanked. Further, trying to tie spanking to likelihood of ending up in prison is really faulty reasoning when you leave out the uneven way laws are applied in this country for black and brown people, poverty, educational attainment…

    I assert that my spanking parents loved me no less than yours. I was not an accident. I was a planned and much anticipated (my mom wanted a girl sooo bad!) addition to the family. My father made me feel beautiful with nicknames like Little Miss Muffet, Princess and Pecan Tan…and when I misbehaved in a major way, they spanked me — with love. I think it is not uncommon for Dads not to spank daughters even in spanking families. I only remember my Father trying to spank me once. I was around five. I urinated on his shoes — on purpose — and that was the end of that (he was quite the Dapper Don). Would your father have been so reluctant to spank if he was raising three sons in this country?

    I don’t think it fair to conflate “good black parenting” to spanking alone. If we are talking about cultural traditionalists (and my mothers is clearly in that group), I submit that “good” parenting consists of having mannerly/respectful children who make something of themselves and become a source of pride for themselves, their family and community. Forgive the long comment, folks. I have been distressed by the reporting on this issue. Responsible parents can employ spanking along with other disciplinary techniques effectively without committing child abuse.

    1. I completely understand your passion about the issue, so it’s fine that it was long, my piece was long. But the post is specifically about people who consistently brag about “beating” and being “beat” when, in fact, the corporal punishment they experienced was moderate to a light paddling. I’m upset with people who brag about this or equating “good parenting” with “corporal punishment” in the black community. This individuals are committing something detrimental, because it makes things look like this is all we do as black people, when, as you’ve demonstrated, that is not true. It also provides cover for abusers, like Peterson, when we shouldn’t be defending him.

      Also, in the piece I do say that not spanking will yield the same random results and I never say that parents who spank don’t love their kids. In the piece, I admit that there are ways to incorporate corporal punishment into discipline that are fine, but I also admit I’m biased and I’m personally against it. I’m sure someone could make the argument my parents choosing to psychologically manipulate me into “minding” was bad, but if we feel like we had good childhoods and that our parents loved us, we are typically going to think there was nothing wrong about how we were raised and take offense at any insinuations.

      Largely, my gripe is with the Charles Barkleys of the world who would have you believe we’re a nation of child abusers, when that’s not the fact. My argument was about why so many defended Peterson when they do not believe in child abuse and do not actually abuse their children and why so many people think to be a good parent you have to spank. I don’t understand the bragging about it and the one-up-manship of it. Especially when black people are stereotyped as violent when we are actually no more violent against our children than any other ethnic group. I would think that more black people would want to make an emphasis on being firm, loving, compassionate parents, not “I whupped ’em good.” I realize the bragging is a cultural signifier, but much like adopting the N-word and using it as a term of endearment, this is pretty high on my list of “Things Danielle will never understand the other side of.”

      So, it’s cool. I’m sorry the piece was shaming to you and your parents. That’s not what I intended.

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