I'm Southern AF. I was born in Memphis and grew up in Mississippi; I've eaten every part of the pig you can think of, had deer sausage spaghetti and have swapped whoopin stories with people at school more than once. From house shoes to fly swatters to extension cords (and for me a certain paddle); it was like a badge of honor to have survived what your parents threw at you when you got "smart mouthed". However, like most rationally minded people I still had to balk at what happened in Spring Valley High and how that poor girl was brutalized for essentially nothing. Of course though, not everyone thought there was anything wrong with that. That, dear friends, is a problem.
I’m reluctant to share the video of what happened at the school, but just in case you have been on another planet recently #AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh is what the public has deemed the ridiculously overzealous (former) Officer Ben Fields’ brutalization of a teenage black girl at school. Despite Fields’ past as a dangerous man dubbed “Officer Slam” he was still allowed to be called into a classroom and to brutalize a black student for apparently using a cell phone in class. The fallout from this was quick but predictable. Most people were like me, appalled by the video and asked why was this justified. Some wondered why none of the other students did anything, or why the teacher called the police in the first place knowing current events. Many saw this as an example of the school to prison pipeline and of course many said that the girl was in the wrong. All of the reactions speak to deeper issues, but I really want to figure out why (or how) someone could possibly justify the kind of abuse we saw in the video.
I know I’ve said this a million times but it a big answer to that question is respectability politics. We as black people are some of our own harshest critics. We love to put down other black people because they’re not as nice, well dressed, well spoken or just “good” as others. The respectables, as I like to call them, where the first to say “Well she should have gotten off her phone” like that really explained why that girl was dragged across the floor. The even sadder thing, though, is that the respectables feel justified. They feel that inherently Black children should know better, and that leads to an even scarier problem.
We all have stories about crazy whoopins or beatings we got from our parents when we were little; some of them “deserved” and some of them even our parents would admit were extra. Its back to that same argument we’ve heard over and over again: Black (and brown) parents abuse their kids and the black and brown parents arguing back that they have to do it. The sheer fact that many people feel that they have to make their kids “well behaved enough” to survive in a world looking for an excuse to kill them scares most Black and brown parents into beating their kids for ever daring to step a toe out of line. It is this fear that leads us to excuse any type of violence against black and brown children, since they "should be glad they ain't kill you".
Our children will never be able to live so long as they have to live in fear of the authorities (parents, police, and others). We MUST end the notion that only well behaved, respectable kids can live (literally or metaphorically) otherwise situations like the Assault and Spring Valley High will continue, and people will continue to excuse it. It should have been clear with Martese Johnson that being respectable helps no one, and even though we think we’re doing what it takes to help our children survive, what we are honestly doing is just creating new respectables who hate when Black people aren't begging for white acceptance. We're creating little Raven-Symones and Don Lemons.
Now I know that there are so many levels to this. I can't just say that we have to stop whooping our kids because that desire for them to survive is REAL. We do have to stop glorifying violence against Black kids though; I see so many people say “This generation needs a good whoopin”, talking about how it helped them growing up, but they fail to mention that most of them end up respectable as hell with a trifecta of issues (most of the time sexism, homophobia and anti-blackness). We are so quick to judge parents who don't whoop their kids it's not even funny. What is even more sad is that the only reason why we call for kids to get whoopins really is to make sure they are respectable, and as the many examples have told us, there is no real way for Black and brown people to completely avoid racism and prejudice. We've been whoopin kids almost exclusively for decades and they are still being brutalized by those in power; it's time we evaluate what we are doing. A whoopin hasn't saved a Black life yet from police brutality, so why are we saying that police brutality can now teach a lesson? We HAVE to stop accepting and encouraging this violence and allow people to try new things. Whether you use the rod or spare it; we all gotta find a way to keep them from beating (killing) our kids, so why not try everything and every way we can?