Hitting back at spanking
On May 10, Jamaicans took part in the annual global mass-market celebration of biological and social mothers - the much-loved Mother's Day.
Social media was abuzz with timeline feeds, selfies of people with their mothers, and memes publicly extolling female mothering persons who continue to do the important and essential unpaid work in the home.
While trolling social media posts, my eyes caught one meme in particular posted by Jamaican singer Alaine on her Instagram page. "Still love you Mom" was sandwiched by the images of a flip-flop sandal, a wooden spoon and a belt, and captioned by this question to her followers: "LOL, who use to have to run weh from d beating dem and sight slippaz?"
An analysis of the responses reveals a concerning reality. Of 59 replies, Alaine's followers traded quips with comments that mostly affirmed the meme, ranging from "I remember those days ... LOL", "weh di rock stone deh?", "dat true mamma love" to "Hahahaha ... story of our lives". It became clear to me then that Jamaicans are of the view that corporal punishment in the home plays a defining role in shaping our identity and our collective experiences of mothering.
On reading the comments, my knee-jerk reaction was one of laughter because so much of what was said had resonance with my own experience growing up as a Jamaican child. To an extent, we have come to accept that spankings are part and parcel of our disciplinary regime.
Our admiration for spanking is part of our historical legacy. My last encounter with my mother's backhand happened around age 16. Still today, when I am a little feisty, my mother is quick to remind me that "a she bring me come ya", and because of this, I am never too old for a "box dung".
Many of us can recall the not-too-distant time when the village raised our children. We look back with admiration at the past when members of the community could physically discipline children for misbehaving in public. I was one of those wayward children who would get a "second helping" when I got home.
Furthermore, African-Jamaicans' religious consciousness has been colonised by Christianity, the religion of the slave master and the British coloniser. Christianity has provided the moral justification for the use of violence against children.
In the biblical book Proverbs (verse 13:24), parents are instructed, "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes." In popular culture, this verse has been rendered, "Don't spare the rod and spoil the child."
So what are the implications of viewing spanking as a defining aspect of our collective Jamaican identity and experience of mothering?
I took some time - two weeks post Mother's Day - to reflect on the normalisation of spanking as part of our Jamaican identity. It was more important for me because I am implicated in the practice. This article is therefore both a personal-cum-social reflection. In light of growing concerns about child abuse, sexual and other forms of violence against our children, the question of whether the spanking culture is part of what defines our Jamaican-ness warrants further interrogation.
If this punishment regime is a part of what helps to define our Jamaican-ness, we would be pandering to the ways of our former slave masters. The slave master used physical force to encourage enslaved Africans to accept slavery.
As a society, we need to end our complicity in perpetuating a violent disciplinary practice.
It is good that we are impassioned about individual forms of violence such as parental neglect of children in the home, and are lobbying for amendments to the Child Care and Protection Act. We should be just as passionate about addressing structural forms of violence against children that affect their social, economic and physical status in society.
Poverty, lack of access to good health care, homelessness, poor-quality education, limited access to a nutritious and balanced diet, low-income households, and families impacted by chronic unemployment or underemployment are examples of structural violence experienced by children.
An exclusive reliance on the criminal (in)justice system to stop violence against children would not be prudent.
We would do well to visit the culturally appropriate, egalitarian and non-punitive parenting approaches of hunter-gather societies. Their parenting practice is the antidote for our current inequitable power dynamics in the socialisation of our children.