My grandmother “Nana” was the dearest, sweetest, kindest and most loving woman I’ve ever known, a woman who raised her six children alone after being widowed at an early age. A fierce prayer warrior and strong woman of God, she was a Sunday-school superintendent and later a church mother.
And whenever she felt it necessary, Nana was deft with a strap across legs and hind parts. Following in her footsteps, my mother worked a mean slipper.
But they never went crazy or got out of hand, not like Joe Jackson and other parents accused of atrocities such as oiling their children before beating them with an ironing cord. No, with Ma and Nana, it was always just two or three licks and they were done. I shudder at the thought of children who, according to a self-identified social worker on The Root‘s Facebook page, were “beaten ’til they were blue,” got beatings and had “rubbing alcohol poured on their wounds,” were “hog-tied and then beaten,” were told to “wet their bodies before a beating (so their skin will tear more)” or were “beaten on an almost daily basis.”
Oprah Winfrey’s recent interview of Joe and Katherine Jackson — particularly the admission that Joe beat his famous children with a strap, and Katherine’s assertion “that’s how blacks raised kids” — sparked a lively debate on social media threads about the issue of corporal punishment and black parenting. Many commenters seem to agree with Katherine, stating that corporal punishment is a part of black culture. Some say it’s a vestige of slavery, a leftover ritual once used to break slaves’ spirit and make them obedient.
Here’s what I say to that: On Facebook, there’s a group called “I Got Spankings When I Was Little and I Turned Out Alright.” As of this writing, there are 692 members, including yours truly. And based on the photos, the overwhelming majority of members appear to be white. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised based on the word “spanking,” which doesn’t seem as common among black folks. Not to engage in a battle of semantics, but “spankings” do sound a lot less offensive than “beatings” and “whippings.”