Tuesday, January 21, 2014

black parenthood and corporal discipline

I have always felt that there was something very classist about the movement against laying your hand on your child. I was raised to believe in spankings, time outs, and knew that if I did something bad enough that I would pay for it with my hide.
I now live in boston where even the mention of corporal discipline is met with sounds of disgust.
I tried to explain to a friend once how growing up in a black family there is a history that required strict discipline even from young children. This wasn’t taken well. Brushed aside, she insisted that in this day and age such tactics were not necessary and lead to problems in development. Problems in development? How about the problems in development that come from no sense of consequences? Or those behavioral problems that seem to persist in liberal raised children? Or the sense of entitlement and inflated ego that children without discipline tend to keep? Well of course these aren’t problems for the he upper class white folk that deplore corporal discipline. These are expected responses to their daily lives; most importantly what would be ‘maladjusted’ in the setting of Wesley Boston would be quite reasonable on a bad night in South east d.c. In fact, it is unlikely the children of middle class white folk will ever face the sort of situation where they will have to fear corporal discipline.
This so a not the case for the family that raised me. My grandfather often spoke of how when he was a boy his mother would make him pick out the branch that the switch would be. He also talked about how uppity negros were violently killed. My grandmother spoke of the long discussions her mother would have with her before she would face consequences like a spanking or evening without a full dinner. She also talked about the ways she went without while teaching in d.c. and the fear she had when race riots occurred. These family members knew that their children would face severe physical consequences if they did not appear properly behaved around whites.
So in their households, black parents were forced to find us to get their children in inline, and quick to, because there was no alternative. The time for development was violently limited to a time away from the view of white overseers. To be frank: the limited time away from the threat of violence from whites. This times are a very small part of black childhood.
This reality that misbehaving black children are seen as violent remains true today. As such black parents have to be certain that their children will not misbehave and understand the violence that could befall them if the do misbehave. There was recently a story of a young black girl who had her hair cut because the beads in it were ‘distracting’ for other students; her body was seen to be no compliant so it was literally cut apart. That is why corporal discipline remains such a major force in these communities- the response required of this girl was one that many an adult would struggle to give in these face of such unfair cruel ness.
I cannot speak to corporal disciplines efficacy or effects on development. But I can say that it is a way of raising children that has come out of a very important external need. I don’t think that parents should lose their children to the foster care system for corporal discipline.
There is a clear line between discipline and abuse.
Discipline follows clear cut rules: a negative action has a negative consequence. That consequence has to be proportional but cannot be seriously damaging.
Discipline is fair. The rationale and actions are explained.
The child should always be given a chance to explain themselves because that also gives the adult a chance to explain how the action and feelings could have been better directed. You did this because you felt but but that hurt others so you cannot do this again. You are being punished to give you a sense of the hurt you did and so you remember not to do this again.
Discipline is educational. Discipline involves self cntrol, emotional management, and improvement. Next time you should do a different thing like that instead. Here is your punishment. Here is what would happen if you misbehave in this way outside of the home.
Most importantly it is an education in making right what you have done. In my family, discipline was always linked to religion. We forgive you as Christ forgive you. But we need you to understand that our forgiveness doesn’t mean that you don’t have to make up for what you did.
Abuse is quite different. It is irrational, done in anger, and random. Abuse is based on when the adult is angry not based on when the child has done wrong. It is not proportional. It leaves listing damage and leaves the child confused about what wrong action they took. Instead of teaching the child to behave right rather than wrong, it teaches the child to read the emotions of the adult and take behavior that appeases them.
I defend the way black families deal with discipline issues because penalizing and breaking apart families does nothing to address the issue at hand. The real issue is the way young black children are often criminalized from an early age and the fact that the system set up to help children removed from their homes will only expose children to more, and often harsher, abuse.