Southern Discomfort

January 15, 2011

The main point of this post is for us to think about why we hit our children. I am saying this first because it takes a minute for me to get to that point in the blog.

There were some unpleasant feelings that came up in terms of my summer vacation South in November 2010. I was concerned about returning to the only place I had ever been where I was called a “nigger” to my face. Surreal for me. ” No thanks, I’ll pass”, I thought when the opportunity arose, but then as you read in my last post I found some really beautiful things in the South (Southern Exposure: https://makeitplainonline.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/southern-exposure/).

Negative feelings did come up though, as my family was entering an old plantation (this was not planned, we just happened upon it during a drive through Edisto Island).  My toddler aged son had some sort of fit and began refusing to enter.

His resistance started a cascade of thoughts for me. Especially, what must it have been like to be a child slave? I will share the cascade with you.

First of all, at what age exactly did they start beating children to shape slave behavior?

At what age was it necessary to conform to slave behavior? When parents say “It’s for your own good?”did this come from a place for black people that really meant, ” learn to be a docile person because that will save your life”?  Certainly, having a strong will or any will would not have been tolerated and was perhaps a matter of life and death.

Were slave children allowed to play?  What was life like for them before they had to work? When were they made to work?  Were they neglected?

I consulted an old book on Black child development about this: Alvin Poussaint and James Comer wrote: Black Child Care in the 70s that referred to the slave child as “abused”. They were often assigned to care for Caucasian sickly people, their elderly or Caucasian children. It didn’t say when they started to work.

I think about my kid and how he always says “no” and that is the process by which we begin to establish a separate identity and find our own voice. It is only normal and natural for children this age to do this. How was this handled with slave children? I can only guess that they were beaten severely, by either caregivers or slave masters.

Like the Seligman dogs from a famous psychological experiment many years ago. The dogs were shocked through the floors of their cages with no way to escape.  After a while, even if they were shocked they no longer tried to escape.

I think of my child, and know I will not hit him. It’s a lot more work to train a child in socially acceptable behavior without hitting, but it makes no sense to me to shape a human whom you want to feel worthy of respect by giving the child pain. He spends a hell of a lot of time in time out but he is getting a consequence that does not involve physical pain.

That’s my choice. You may have a different one. But I think it is important in terms of living consciously to think about why you are doing it. Is it because you were hit? Is it because everybody else is doing it? Is it because people from your community or family may judge you if you don’t hit? Are those good enough reasons for you? Chances are this pattern was passed down through generations and may not make the most sense when you step back from it a little and get perspective.

People will argue: Spare the rod and spoil the child. But I really don’t think this needs to be taken literally. After all, I don’t know many people using rods on their kids. I do think kids need limits and structure to learn and without these things a child may have more difficulty in society.

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3 Responses to “Southern Discomfort”

  1. Felena said

    Very insightful article. This article really made me stop and think.

  2. And, for those of you that do not see any other way besides hitting, please know that laws regarding corporal punishment vary from state to state (you cannot hit your child in New Jersey, but in New York you can do so if the hitting is seen as corrective and the child does not have a fear of you.)

    Some people have had rude awakenings when the law comes knocking at the door because of the hitting.

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