Is Not Spanking Your Child a “White Thing”?

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A few days ago I came across an article on Ebony Magazine’s website written by a new mother describing her approach to parenting, which included natural childbirth, breastfeeding and not spanking. The author labeled her choices as “white parenting decisions”, and connected black mothers’ use of physical punishment to slavery. Here’s an excerpt:

“Finally, a glutton for racially insensitive punishment, I’ve joined the uber-segregated “positive discipline” movement. Mothers are instructed to ignore or redirect undesirable behavior, reward good behavior and to acknowledge their children’s feelings. The alternatives,  experts say, are dire. Children of spankers more frequently battle mental illness, imprisonment, and substance abuse. Of course, the new findings indict Black mamas (rather than socioeconomic factors) for their low-down, spanking ways. Even well-meaning defenders of Black mothering depend on these false binaries to support their arguments. Parents must use “credible threats” to “run” their households or be victim to “ruthless dictators.” If it sounds like a duck, it’s probably a plantation.

Corporal punishment is not an invention of the antebellum plantation,  but the relationship between American totalitarianism and brutality was forged there. Disobedience to unclear rules was met with brute force not even two hundred years ago; that’s only five Big Mommas back. We still speak the names of the last people whose flesh was bullwhip-torn. Although I won’t make an essentialist claim about (mythically homogeneous) Black parenting, I believe that today’s plantation system— the prison industrial complex—necessitates a history lesson that will explain why some parents train children to respect authority and others can afford to ponder freedom.”

As a black mother who breastfed, endured 17 hours of natural, non-drugged labor and a vaginal birth (which I would gladly do again!), and doesn’t plan on spanking, I found the association of these practices with ‘whiteness’ a bit troubling.

I made my decision not to spank my children as a child myself. Corporal punishment was grossly misused in my own household, and those of other children I knew. I noticed that, over time, spanking (or ‘beating’, as black people call it) became less and less about what a child did wrong, and more and more about a parent’s own anger, frustration or general depression. Plus I witnessed too many incidents where a child rose up and fought back. And let me tell you, there is NOTHING uglier than watching a child fight his or her parent.

Still, I don’t denounce it as a method of discipline. My husband’s mother used spanking in a very limited, controlled and effective way — he was spanked exactly 3 times in his entire life — and he turned out pretty awesome:) I’m just personally too scarred by what I’ve seen to attempt it myself.

On the other hand, we’ve all heard of the mythical super-disrespectful, non-black child in the grocery store who curses his mother up and down because she won’t buy him candy. As a new black mom, I do struggle to figure out what the balance is. Especially when Noah is looking up at me, all doe eyed, as he reaches for something sharp or knocks over a lamp.

Still, I’ve never looked upon my decision not to spank as a ‘white’ one. Primarily because I don’t think white people hold all the secrets to proper child discipline. And also because my decision not to spank was made within my own Caribbean-American culture, and wasn’t influenced by anything or anyone on the ‘outside’.

What do you think ladies? Do you consider the decision not to spank a child a “white” thing? And what decision have you made regarding disciplining your own children?


About Leila

Leila is the founding editor of Baby and Blog. She splits her time between editing hair and culture site, Black Girl with Long Hair, whipping up butters at BGLH Marketplace, and writing here. She adores her husband and two kids, her parents and her friends. But she hates Chicago weather although she is slowly coming to peace with it...