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Corporal Punishment: Shame, Fear and Unreasoning
Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2014

By Iniko Ujaama
April 24, 2014 -

I watched the video of the Trinidadian parent who recently posted the video of herself beating her daughter over posting some 'sexy' pics on facebook and the subsequent video of her two daughters(an elder sister and the one beaten) explaining away and justifying the mother's actions. In my view the motivation was to embarrass the daughter for the embarrassment the mother herself felt on account of the 'sexy' pics posted on facebook and the fear that she may become sexually active and become pregnant. All of this is reinforced in the video with the daughters who also pointed to her mother being a single-parent which added to the shame since in our society it is considered a dysfunctional and deficient form of family. Add on top of that the fact that Africans and African families are generally viewed as dysfunctional. The mother was responding to all of this, none of which emanates from the daughter herself.

The mother may well have felt that she was working in her daughters best interest but this only shows that good intentions based on fear and uncritically accepted or unreasoned ideas can lead to misguided or even destructive actions. Some claim these forms of punishment (shaming and beating) as so called 'West Indian' or 'African' as compared to what are deemed softer forms of punishment that are considered characteristic of European. It is missed that this is based on knowledge of Africans and European from the period of enslavement and colonialism and that these types of punishment gradually became less common in European society during the very period that it was being used more firmly among Africans and others. Also it is not unusual for groups to change or abandon certain practices when they have reasoned something better.

Some claim that having been punished in that way has made them a 'better' person. Some of these same persons would have difficulty applying that same principle with any measure of consistency in other cases. The idea that force, fear and shame are truly effective means of making one a better or more moral person forms the basis for much of the violence that takes place in the home, in the wider society and between countries. It is seen as appropriate to use violence on others who are deemed more vulnerable, weaker or less advanced to put them right. It also encourages those who see themselves as such to accept such treatment. Bullying, domestic abuse and others follow the same logic for the perpetrator and often too by the victims. This tendency to attribute better character with violence, coercion etc is consistent with the idea that enslavement and the imposition of European religion and cultural norms is to account for whatever perceived good character or order in our societies. It is no surprise then that the Bible is used to justify corporal punishment or that ideas of good character, decency, morality etc are so inconsistent, distorted etc. The existence of verses such as the following in the Bible point to the deeper history of the spread of patriarchal values and culture:

The Book of Proverbs
He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes.-Proverbs 13:24
Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell. - Proverbs 23: 13-14

The dominant ideas about morality, sexuality, gender, family etc are greatly influenced by Christianity and European culture. European females were presented as the symbol of purity while African females were presented as the embodied of all that was dirty, dysfunctional and deviant sexually. This contributes to the pressure that often falls upon them to show them to be behaving appropriately in terms of European standards of decency and sexual morality. At the same time mainstream values tell them that their value derives from their body and its appeal to males. Being historically debased and that debasement being linked with the portrayal of them as overly sexual and deviant in their sexuality there is a greater burden on African females for being sexually active early, getting pregnant, having or having had multiple sex partners etc.

We are also encouraged to believe that a nuclear family headed by a male is the ideal family type something which has been subtly ingrained in children and adults through school, church and state through laws etc. Marriage attached the children and the female to a male and therefore made them legitimate. Females who had children "out of wedlock" were openly and legally discriminated against in the work place as well as through social stigma. The same was the case for children born in such a context. This was done openly by the church and elsewhere. In that kind of context with these values being unquestioned, females who themselves do not fulfill that ideal might tend to be harder on their children for fear of them being shamed as failures.

Much of the discussion centered around whether the mother was right or wrong for her action. Also concern was rightly raised about the harm which is done physically and emotionally (but also in terms the capacity to reason and discern) to the daughter. At the base of the fear and shame that motivated the mother to take action are the poor and distorted ideas of morality, sex, gender and race which continue to influence our society and the general absence of proper and informed discussion of these issues.

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