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'Beating a child is GBH'

WHIPPING: US football star Adrian Peterson has been chastised for beating his son

MANY YEARS ago on a family holiday to Jamaica, I spanked my four-year-old daughter for lying. I never spanked her hard or repeatedly and she had no recollection of it, yet it is the thing I am most ashamed of as a parent.

There will be those who say that spanking is a ‘black thang’. But it isn’t. Time and time again I hear celebrities say that a good beating/whipping/flogging never did them any harm. Bully for them. Just because it never did them any harm doesn’t follow that it doesn’t do anybody any harm? If I were to show you how a beating, or rather the threat of a beating destroyed my family, would that change your mind about the destructive nature or cause you to even think about inflicting grievous bodily harm on your child? Because that’s really what it is - GBH.

Corporal punishment and black people is the big talking debate Stateside because of an American football player’s chastisement of his four-year-old son. Chastisement, I say. It was a whipping by any other standard of behaviour, the same kind of whipping that slave masters used to inflict on the enslaved Africans in their power. The NFL player in question, Adrian Peterson (the star running back for the Minnesota Vikings for those of you who don’t follow the sport as you do the Gooners), went and got a branch, stripped it of its leaves and then whipped his sons so many times with it that he lost count. Does that sound like 12 Years A Slave or doesn’t it?

Peterson has had his supporters and his detractors. Many of those supporters are the good and the great of the black community in America who say: “it’s a black thang, you wouldn’t understand it...” The likes of Whoopi Goldberg feels that if a good whipping never done her no wrong, that’s good enough for the gander.

Hold on just one darn minute, Whoopi. I can tell you a story from my family which will make you eat those words.

It wasn’t until the messenger of doom from a good whipping came knocking on our door that my uncle told me that “a good flogging’ was not the African way. That, in fact, in Africa we cherish the child. Traditional African communities built respect from the child not obedience on pain of a good fluffing. Not subservience. Not fear and anger. 

ASSURANCE

Until then, I really believed that it was just our lot to get a good hiding when we got home on top of the caning that we got at school for misbehaving. My co-conspirators of bad behaviour at school would laugh off the six of the best from the headmaster and the assurance from him that he would be sending a letter home to our parents stating his reasons for the school house thrashing.

All my white friends would scoff at the thought and suggest that their mums would buy them an ice lolly to get over the headmaster’s beating. I would stare at the headmaster with pleading eyes that were begging for that letter not to be sent. I would even try and anticipate the postman the next morning, but you know how it is when you’re just 12 years old and you need your beauty sleep. Before I knew it I would be yanked out of bed by a fuming parent, a 4x2 in hand and waving the anticipated letter in my face, demanding an explanation.

Of course, I could say it never did me any harm. Perhaps in some way those floggings have inadvertently made me the successful publisher, broadcaster and journalist that I am. But what a price to pay? The devastation to my family, just so that me and my brothers could be top ranking in our fields was a price too high. Besides, who says that we wouldn’t have achieved more without the flogging? As we know, those white boys who didn’t get flogged are ruling the world. Can you imagine Bill Gates or any of ‘dem bwoy’ getting flogged by their parents?

Having said that, it is the inability of white folks not to teach their kids respect that costs a lot of black children a good beating. Because when our parents and their parents came here back in the day and they saw white kids calling their parents by their first names and misbehaving without even the threat of a clip round the earhole, our parents made sure that we who weren’t necessarily running around with the indigenous boys (and girls) got even more discipline before we caused them to have a heart attack by referring to them as ‘Gus’ or ‘Millicent’ or ‘Pearl’ or ‘Winston’.

That’s my theory anyway. Some of you white readers of The Voice might beg to differ, but as far as I’m concerned I got licks because of you, not in spite of you.

Of course, because every child is different. If I had a child who was one step away from Youth Offenders Institution, then of course I would knock the living daylights out of him and happily go to prison in his stead. But I would have to blame myself for allowing things to get to that state. A failed child is a project of a failed upbringing brought about by failed parents. End of story. In which case you are the one who needs the flogging - not your child. Spare The Rod, Spoil The Parent.

As far as what happened to my family is concerned, it is too gruesome, too cruel, too painful to share with you on this occasion. Besides, it would give you nightmares.

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