Today I shared a viral video of a Caribbean mom beating her 12-year-old daughter with a belt for
talking to and sending photos of herself to a man online posting photos of herself in a vest and underwear online. In the comments which followed on the CODE RED facebook page two persons wrote that they were unable to watch the video as they felt sick to their stomachs.
I was taken aback by their comments. Or rather, I felt their comments were dishonest.
I watched my grandmother punch my cousin in the face for breaking eggs on her way back from the shop. My father once ripped a shirt off my teenaged sister. I attended public primary school. Nuff said.
My mother recalls missing school regularly because her grandmother would put her mother out of the house on a whim.
I will not even write what I have seen and heard my neighbour do to his son.
Remembering those occasions in which I experienced or was forced to bear witness to physical and emotional violence is traumatic. Sometimes the very ways in which Caribbean parents seek to demonstrate love, care and guidance are the very ways that will destroy you.
We have to know better so we can do better. We have to unlearn.
But we can’t begin that process of unlearning and re-learning if we are going to get all righteous and pretend like violence is not an everyday, normalised part of life. The mother who made the video and posted it online knew that her Caribbean viewers would recognise “good West Indian discipline” when they saw it. She made that video for us, to let us know she is a good mother, a tough mother. She knows that after what her daughter posted online people would be asking questions about what kinda mudda raises the kinda force-ripe 12-year-old that would post risque photos online.
These videos of mothers and fathers beating their children are in wide circulation and generally receive praise as examples of good parenting.
If we want to change the normalisation of physical and emotional abuse we have to get honest. Yes, we can (and do) watch the videos. Yes, our stomachs can take it. Yes, we have witnessed or received worse. Yes, we use violence ourselves. For many Caribbean parents the decision to not hit their children is one that must be consciously chosen over the culturally approved mandate that to spare the rod is to spoil the child.
One mom left this comment:
growing up in a caribbean household (where my brother and i did get licks) i know that the traditional mindset is that this is no big ting. that the lash she get and the mother posting it online was deserved since it seems she was ‘being fas’ and ‘talkin to man’ on FB and she is only 12 yrs old. as a mother who has struggled to find alternative ways to discipline and teach my boys other than the belt, i understand the moms frustration. she probably is honestly trying to keep her daughter on the straight and narrow using the only way she knows how. i am loathe to judge her cuz she may not know any other way to talk and discipline her child. but the truth is that this is wrong. its abusive, humiliating and does more harm than good in the long run. the problem is how to change this mindset that is so ingrained in caribbean culture? i’ve gotten into some serious rows with friends and family who think me soft and too american for not beating my kids. and i’ve also caved to the pressure and frustration and beat them when they drove me crazy… its easy to point the finger but to actually throw off generations of teaching when there seems to be no viable alternative? so much harder….
I appreciate her honesty. Corporal punishment is still legal in most Caribbean schools. When I started teaching it was against the law for ordinary teachers to hit children but senior teachers and principals were legally permitted to do so. When the media publicized the fact that teachers who beat children were engaging in a criminal act many teachers felt that their ability to control the classroom was being undermined.
We have experienced violence and are living with that trauma. We have used violence. We have failed to consider other alternatives. We have justified our use of violence. Violence has become a normal and natural response.
When we dare to be honest about how hurt we are, about how hurt we feel when we hurt others, we open the door to healing.
It’s time we stopped saying that we were beaten like slaves and it made us the men and women we are today. We are not betraying our parents when we recognise that they were abusive, we are not denying that they weren’t also loving, that they raised us in trying times and under harsh conditions.
We have to admit the hurt and our implications on both sides of it.
See also I am a Complicated Latina Feminist, Ending Violence by Tina Vasquez for a thoughtful exploration of violence and family responsibility.
Edited to remove link to video following complaints. Please read my response to reader criticisms here.