I'm A Black Mom And I Don't Spank My Children

by Brandi Jeter Riley
Originally Published: 
photo credit: Brandi Riley

I grew up in a family that believed in spanking as a form of discipline. It wasn’t called spanking, though. All of the kids that I knew got beatings, “whoopings,” or their ass kicked. That was just part of the culture of our neighborhood.

It wasn’t anything to see a parent tearing a kid up, hitting them with a belt or a shoe in the middle of the street. When I visited my family down south in the country, I would watch as cousins grabbed their own switch off the tree and handed it to their parent to get whooped. Although I was never publicly disciplined in that way, I definitely got my fair share of abuse.

Yes, abuse. Because, when a full-size adult hits a child, that’s exactly what it is. If a man were to punch a woman in her chest because she didn’t wash the dishes, as I’ve witnessed happen to the boys in my family, or slapped in the face because she was a little too smart-mouthed, as has happened to me, we would call the police.

Hell, if we saw someone be physically aggressive towards a dog, folks would be outraged. Black children, unfortunately, still don’t get the same regard.

Now, I know some folks aren’t going to like me putting our business out on front street. This is a black thing, and other cultures wouldn’t understand it. Our kids behave better because we whoop them. They are respectful and would never even think about saying some of the things other kids say to their parents. Slamming doors, mouthing off, or cussing isn’t something that black children do to their parents unless there’s something deeper going on with their mental health.

All of that good behavior is because we take the time to discipline our kids and not let them walk all over us, right?

No, I think not.

I think that much of what black families believe about the benefits of spanking is the result of physical discipline being exercised against our community as a whole for years and years. Eventually that type of treatment gets ingrained in your psyche. When you’re continually dominated by violence, at some point, you start to think that to be in charge equals to be physically aggressive. It’s also an easier way to be in control than to actually have to do the emotional work of being a boss — or a parent.

Years ago, I led a series of kids’ theater workshops in a long-term shelter for families. There were so many rules in the shelter and all of the residents, even the parents, were treated like children with super strict curfews and schedules, and staff members talking down to them. I spent so much time in the shelter that I started to notice how the moms and dads would hit their kids for any infraction.

They didn’t talk to the kids, or ask them questions, or otherwise do any negotiations with their child. And really, in that situation, I could almost understand it. They were incredibly overwhelmed by their situations and didn’t have the bandwidth to survive and practice gentle parenting. They were in survival mode. Even still, it broke my heart.

Many black families, even those of us who aren’t in dire situations, still rely on corporal punishment as a parenting tool. Our parents raised us like that, and we turned out fine. Or did we?

I was beaten as a child, and can remember every incident. Although I forgive my father, I will never forget. Nothing I did as a kid was so bad that it warranted being hit with an extension cord, or getting slapped in the face. Later, as I got older, I was so angry, a huge hothead; I would pop off in a second. As I worked through healing and becoming a more gentle person, I likened it to training a dog to fight. You abuse it until it gets mad and starts to fight to survive. That was me.

My children are not going to have to go through a decade of healing from pain in order to be good people, because I do not hit my kids. At all.

After experiencing spankings myself, I don’t believe that hitting my children will make them better students. I know that it won’t stop them from occasionally lying (as children do), or sneaking candy, or forgetting to clean their rooms. Beating my children will not make them trust me. It won’t teach them a lesson any more than sitting down and talking to them about choices will. It won’t make being a mom easier for me.

I do know that it would be a lot more confusing for me to teach my children about not hitting others, or warn them about the signs of abuse in their future partners if I, the person who loves them most, hits them. Spankings overshadow the real lessons that kids need to learn from their parents. Raising kids is supposed to be a lot of saying the same things over and over again. It’s supposed to be work. Spanking is the easy way out.

And you know what else? It’s hard enough for black kids out in the world. They shouldn’t have to fight their family. We see how black boys and girls are disciplined more often in school, how they’re more likely to be shot by police officers, and how they are treated more aggressively than other kids in general. Can you imagine having to face that from strangers and your own mama? Not in my house.

A lot of my black mom and dad friends feel the same way. As much as we love our parents, we’re committed to doing things differently. Some of the older folks say that we’re “acting white,” but that’s not it at all.

Each generation is supposed to improve from the last. I know my parents, and my friends’ parents, and the other moms and dads in our community were doing what they thought was best to raise their black children. I think we can do better, though. And we will.

Black children are not animals. They are just as special and precious as any other child. It’s our job as parents to protect them from harm, not inflict it on them.

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