A couple of years ago, I was very deeply involved in putting together an anthology entitled Ass-Whooping’s Greatest Hits: Reflections on the Spankings We Received. As a new father, I felt it was important to explore this hot-button parental issue. I solicited 83 people to contribute, and out of that 83, every single Black person responded with a resounding “yes!” Latin, Arab and White folks were less enthusiastic (about 19% “yes” from all), but many of those folks I asked to contribute didn’t respond at all.
At the time, their silence didn’t bother me. I’d still have 80,000 words and would be able to produce a hilarious book that many folks would be able to relate to. And why would folks relate to spanking and find it hilarious? Well, every time anyone I know tells of a time they were spanked, they turn it into an episode of Chappelle’s Show. They choose their words carefully, the comic beats are on point. Through the telling of the story, most people make it sound as if it happened in an alternate universe. After witnessing this on far too many occasions, I chalk this up to being a coping skill. How else could anyone integrate the idea that someone they loved, and was supposed to love them, intentionally hurt them if not through the distancing power of humor?
My mom beat the crap out of me and it wasn’t funny. It was like she watched every kung fu flick made and practiced her moves on my too skinny frame. She was nice with hers, though. Hands, shoes, cords from the iron, wooden spoons and spatulas were all used to let me know that whatever I’d done was counter to her wishes. There was never any talking. It was always the following pattern: I’d do something (sometimes I had no idea what it was), she’d beat me, I’d cry, and she’d send me to my room where I’d fall asleep.
We’d never talk about the inciting incident.
This happened until I entered middle school. I got a little too big and fast for her to handle, and she seemed to resent me for this. I concluded that her spanking me was a form of control. She had a lot of stuff going for her that was chaotic, and maybe beating me was one way she could establish order and stability in one aspect of her life.
We either follow our parents’ lead, or we rebel against their examples, and I promised myself that I would never spank my kid. (Yeah, right.)
I spanked my daughter. I spanked her one time, and I’m still haunted by it. The pro-spanking “experts” will tell you that spanking is an acceptable form of discipline, but it has to be done dispassionately. The spanking should be done without any strong emotions attached to the act, centered on the child’s bottom, and (somehow) the behavior that warranted the spanking will be corrected. I’ve been in numerous street fights, and every time I hit someone, I was angry. Folks want to separate spanking from fighting. The only difference is that in a fight, you have a chance to defend yourself.
I spanked… no, no euphemisms. I hit my daughter because she hit another kid, in the face, for no apparent reason. I hit her because she hit someone. What kind of an example or correction was that? Not to mention the power difference. I’m 6’1” and a fairly muscular 270 pounds. I had no business ever putting unloving hands on her. What ripped my heart out was the way she looked at me afterward. Her face was not a mask of pain; it filled with distrust and fear. I had hurt my daughter and made her afraid of me. My hitting her changed our relationship for weeks. While she seems to have forgiven me, as our relationship is stronger than ever, I still haven’t forgiven me.
Spanking is a failure of good parenting. When we hit our kids, we have acted beneath our best, most loving and intelligent selves. We have willingly thrown away compassion for the sake of… what? What does hurting our children accomplish? We can never be the beautiful and loving people many of us claim to be if we continue to promote, accept and rationalize the pain delivered to the bodies and spirits of our children.
Shawn Taylor is the author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity, and People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter, and can be found sporadically on Twitter @reallovepunk.