I thought this was worth pulling out of comments. It comes from an exchange I had with Cynic over how, and why, the decision to spank is made. I was noting that Kenyatta and I, as well as some of our African-American friends, had started out at a position of "no spanking."
To varying degrees, we're all the first generation black middle class folks. Perhaps more importantly we're basically charter members of the black creative class as that term is now understood. Anyway, virtually all of us eventually incorporated spanking, at some point, in how we dealt with our kids. I happen to be furthest along in the process (meaning my son is older than most of my friends' kids) and subsequently stopped a few years back.
But now we enter the contradiction, and I should have said this earlier: I always believed my parents relied too much on corporal punishment. I was divided over whether it shouldn't have been used at all, or whether it should have just been used less. When I was working on the book, I talked with my Dad about this quite a bit, and it was like hearing an echo, because he thought his Dad had used too much corporal punishment. He called himself dialing it down.
Which leads me to the comment:
You're describing a thoughtful and caring pattern of experimentation and adaptation, influenced both by your own experiences and by the advice of experts and social norms. Whether it's 'right' is probably unknowable - although when a decision is made with those motives and methods, it's tough to characterize it as 'wrong.' But I do suspect that it's a way-station on a path of middle-class acculturation. You rely on the harsher end of the disciplinary spectrum less than your own parents; on the whole, I'd guess, your children's generation will move a little further along. For better or worse, these are the norms of the present American middle class. Some cultural behaviors tend to be carried along by groups, even as they ascend the social ladder - cuisine springs to mind. (Generations on, people still cook some of the same things that their grandmothers' grandmothers cooked.) Others fall by the wayside. That you've already changed so discernably suggests to me that this is such a behavior.
It has often occurred to me that my son, should he have kids, won't spank at all. I think that, in some measure, represents his parents being reared in different worlds than he was. Kenyatta was raised in the South, and then Chicago. I come from Baltimore and had parents who were just emerging out of poverty. As I said in the other post, there was no one around me who didn't have to cope with some form of corporal punishment. This is why it's hard for me to countenance spanking=child abuse--because it basically requires me to think of myself, and virtually all my friends as having abusive parents.
But what is undeniable is that each generation--from my father's grandfather who thought nothing of physical punishment, to my father who thought of it as a last resort, to me who though of it as a last resort, and having an age limit, the willingness to spank declined. It was also the same for my mother. I told the story a couple days ago of Moms busting my lip, but her stories of my grandmother--who was dear to me and raised three daughters in the projects--are incomprehensible to me.
Some of it is middle class acculturation, but another part of it is fear. As scared as I am for Samori, I'm certainly less scared than my parents were for me. They were raising us in crack era Baltimore, and had memories of people's lives being cut short in ways that I just don't have. In other words, or worlds were different. Our context was different. And, yeah, our culture is different.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.