Posted by jcmaziquemd on August 8, 2011



A few years ago, when I knew I was heading toward becoming a parent, I began to think about what sort of parent I wanted to be. And I began to weigh whether or not I should spank. I grew up in the ’70s and was spanked — quite a bit. I think the vast majority of black children of my generation were spanked, and nearly all the black kids in my parents’ generation were. Spanking seemed like a black cultural imperative: black people tell one another, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”

But nowadays spanking has many opponents. I wondered if spanking was being sullied by the be-your-child’s-friend crowd even though it remained a valuable tool for raising kids. Was spanking a major shaper of black kids, a significant reason they turned out the way they did? My Lebanese girlfriend, who I knew would be my wife, would not bring blackness into the home. That was my job. Would I be somehow shortchanging some essential aspect of the black parent-child experience by not spanking? I think my parents did right by spanking me, but did I have to do it, too?

One summer Saturday night, a friend took me to a house party on Martha’s Vineyard. I spent an hour talking to the hostess, a short brunette with blue eyes. Her three young kids were respectful and well mannered. She was a big proponent of spanking. I’d never met a white woman so enthusiastically pro-spanking. She said there was no way to keep kids in line without the threat of spanking. That made sense. My parents sure believed that.

At the same party, I also met a black man with three great, well-behaved little kids who told me he never spanked because the home should not be a place of violence. He, too, made a lot of sense. I had never met a black man who was so articulately and proudly anti-spanking. He gave me the freedom to visualize a different path as a black parent. This, while the white woman had almost convinced me that spanking was essential, just as having an army is necessary to be a strong nation, even if it’s rarely deployed. Those two conversations only complicated my internal debate, and for some reason I felt compelled to say so.

When it was time to leave, I found the hostess in the middle of her crowded living room. Soul music from the ’70s boomed as people danced around us. I hugged her and said: “What an interesting night. I met a black man who doesn’t believe in spanking and a white woman who does.”

She furrowed her brow and shot back, “Who’s white?”

I blurted out, “You’re not white?”

“What in the world made you think I was white?”

During our hourlong conversation, I felt she was by far the downest white woman I’d ever met. She set off my blackness radar in a way no white person ever had. I thought she understood blackness better than any white person I’d ever encountered. But she looked so convincingly Caucasian. Surely I was not the first person in her 40-plus years on Earth to come to that conclusion. So I was shocked that she was shocked and indignant that she was indignant.

I said, “I can’t believe this has never happened to you before.”

She said, “I can’t believe you thought I was white.”

Me: “I can’t believe this has never happened to you before!”

Her: “I can’t believe you thought I was white!”

By now the whole room was watching us bark at each other. The music had screeched off. No one was dancing.

Her blond, blue-eyed sister ran up in a frenzy. “Did ya think I was white too?”

I met her earlier. She hadn’t set off my blackdar at all. I said, “Yeah!”

At that point, given the large audience, and our deep investment in our positions, and our shared pigheadedness, no one was willing to give an inch. So we stood there in an angry stalemate until my friend squeezed through the crowd and dragged me off.

Two postscripts: 1) I now have two kids. I do not spank them. I think the “home should not be a place of violence” argument won me over. Maybe the quick rage of the pro-spanking hostess pushed me over the edge.

2) I hear the host has told this story to her black friends — about a guy who thought she was white and how shocking that was to her. Those black people walked away and said, “I didn’t know she was black.”

Touré’s new book, “Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?” will be published in September.

E-mail submissions for Lives to lives. Because of the volume of e-mail, the magazine cannot respond to every submission.


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