I love being Southern. There are so many things that make our culture unique. Our food is well seasoned (shots fired), we know the importance of saying “scuse me” when we bump into others, and the humidity is GREAT for our skin and hair.
But as proud as I am to be a Southerner, there are plenty of things I don’t like about Southern culture. The biggest is evident to all — duh, pervasive racism — but the runner-up is equally as common but slightly less addressed. That thing is spanking (i.e., “whooping”) children.
The expectation to be crisp, clean, and well-mannered creates a ton of pressure for Southern kids — especially Black ones. The pressure not to embarrass your family or “act like you don’t have any ‘home training’” (as it’s referred to in the South) comes with a hearty serving of consequences. And some of the most common consequences are physical.
Don’t even get me started on the experience of growing up Southern and Black. When you’re Black, it’s assumed that you receive and distribute whoopin’s, or “got beat” as we say colloquially. You could almost say it’s a cultural expectation. Perhaps spankings are a direct consequence of the authoritarian parenting style little Black kids know all too well.
Or maybe it’s something else. The history and cause of Black folks whooping their kids is highly debated. Some say it’s a residual effect of slavery. Others say it’s a necessity to prepare Black kids for a world that won’t hesitate to shoot them the second they step out of line. A chilling theory, no doubt.
The intentions are fine, and I am one of many Black folks who are in constant pursuit of the magic fix that will protect my children from the risk and effects of widespread racism. But I hate to break it to ya. I’m pretty sure a whoopin’ ain’t that golden ticket.
When you think about it, it’s pretty heartbreaking that many Black parents feel their only line of defense to save black children is to hurt them. But it’s a logic that I have heard many times throughout the years. And I won’t even pretend like I hadn’t found myself falling victim to that thought process in the past.
But in my case, the sign that spanking was not effective was a lot less scientific. It was something that I discovered through my life experiences as a strong-willed child.
Growing up, I was in trouble often. Most times, my crime was talking too much. But when you are punished in the school system, they don’t always differentiate between crimes. And I found myself going through more severe forms of punishment regularly. Sometimes those punishments were more appropriate for students who did things three times as horrendous as talking to a friend during class.
My earliest experiences with formal school punishment happened in kindergarten. And at my Southern kindergarten school, the principal had the authority to spank kids with paddles.
On the surface level, it may appear that I wouldn’t have faced these consequences had I not repeatedly been in trouble for talking too much in class. But when you dig deeper and find out that Black girls are substantially more likely to face severe forms of punishment and even suspension from school, you realize the odds were never in my favor to begin with.
I was regularly punished in school and occasionally spanked at home out of my mom’s frustration. But neither of those work to stop behavior problems. The biggest reason both tactics were ineffective is that I didn’t have a behavioral problem, I had an “under stimulated in class” problem.
I needed someone who was willing to challenge me and look past my talkative tendencies to my intelligent brain. But I encountered very few educators willing to rise to the challenge.
Instead of backing down I became even more rebellious. And I was also resistant to punishment. Once someone has put their hands on you as a form of discipline, nothing else can measure up in comparison.
Now, decades later, I see plenty of the same strong-willed characteristics in my son that existed within me. And I know that he is another child for whom spanking would be ineffective.
It’s hard parenting in a way that’s countercultural to my upbringing — especially when I see the way other Southerners turn their heads expectantly to see how I respond and stare at me judgmentally when he misbehaves.
But I have to keep trying.
I’m in search of the parenting technique that will teach my kids how to navigate racism and remain respectful without putting my hands on them.
I can’t discuss this topic from a moral soapbox. I’ll be honest and say that there have been times that I have reverted to my old school methods.
But each time, I’m reminded why I’m committed to not hitting my children. It takes conscious effort and intentional decision-making to be a better parent.
I know there are other Black parents like me who want to raise children prepared to endure racism without hitting them. Each time I’m frustrated I remind myself that no one — not even me — has a right to put their hands on my kids.
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