Saturday 10 December 2022
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Debunking Corporal Punishment: A Child’s Tale

Wallace Mabry

Wallace Mabry

Op/Ed By Wallace Mabry


Growing up I recall many instances where my mother literally beat my behind, my back, my legs, and my trying-to-block-the-blows arms with a shoe, belt, or an extension cord.

Infrequently, she beat me with her fist as she held me down with her foot.

She would say, “GIVE me something,” as she looked around for something close to hand to bring about my undoing, and to satisfy her frustration with my disobedience, and my devilish behavior.

Mama did not play.

My grandmother, on the other hand, was more inclined to use the switch, that sturdy but slender branch, with the bark removed, revealing its wet, green and glimmering underside, which would cut into the flesh.

One never forgets those days filled with wishes, prayers, welts, some blood, and lots of tears.

My mother was a single parent, raising me and my older sister. I have no memory of my father. My mother told me he was killed by a white man in Mississippi when I was a baby.

My stepfather and my mother met in the south, and, with his two children, we blended into a family unit. The family moved north.

My sister, my stepbrother, my stepsister, and I (the youngest of the four) enjoyed a bonded relationship, with some back and forth banter about skin complexions. It was our inside joke.

I do not remember a time when my brother did not have my back.

My stepsister (the older of us four) and I, however, were the focus of the punishment meted out in the family. I suppose we were the hard-headed of the bunch.

My mother disciplined me, and her father disciplined her.

She and I survived the many beatings we endured, of course, but we carried, in addition to the physical scars we sustained, an abundance of psychological and emotional scars as well.

Many black adults today (old school), who happened to have been raised up in similar home environments, continue to hold to that measure of discipline, regarding those methods as a sure way to alter, or transform, their children’s acting out behavior.

However, as much as I would like to say the punishment meted out to me by my mother worked to my betterment, I cannot.

It, in fact, had the opposite effect.

My sense of the world, in microcosm, was of violence and unremitting pain. And, I have found the world, in macrocosm, to be just as violent and painful for millions of people.

There are those amongst us, I am sure, who will contend that, although they use the belt or strap in meting out discipline to their children, when necessity calls for it, they do not carry it to the extremes.

They contend that the few whacks they deliver to their child’s backside cannot be construed as abuse or maltreatment, because they do not require their child to remove one stitch of clothing.

These same loving and caring parents often argue against non-corporal discipline techniques as advocated by child protective services, and as practiced by a plethora of families.

They contend that those techniques, time-out, taking away privileges, rewarding good behavior, and the like, will not and do not impress upon their children the urgent necessity for a change in behavior.

If I do not dissuade them, they argue that, in respect to their children, in the home, from their misbehaviors, their lack of motivation, their disrespect for the principles of getting ahead in this society, they will end up on the street, selling drugs, getting involved in drug related violence, or worst, the police will shoot them and they will end up dead, in jail or in prison.

Others view corporal punishment as a parent’s legitimate right, and responsibility, to mete out as they so determine. The police, many will say, told them they should whip their child’s behind, but just do not leave any marks or bruises.

Still others will point out, with no regard for consequence, that their children are not going to tell them to go f—k off, like they hear many white children tell their parents.

Winning the battle to get black families turned from corporal to non-corporal discipline techniques is oftentimes fraught with many pitfalls.

A child’s potential, generally, is stymied, in a home rife with crisis after crisis, brought on by domestic violence, anger management issues, drug use, alcoholism, ignorance related to a lack of parental knowledge of child development issues, and parents and guardians too involved in their own life pursuits to be motivators and positive role models for their children.

Fortunately, many of these children find their own successes in life by looking elsewhere, outside the home, for love, protection, guidance, and above all, for the necessary tools with which they can forge new patterns and lifestyles for themselves.

Too many others, unfortunately, end up on the street, superfluous, carrying on a tradition of hopeless expectations.