By DR. STACEY PATTON
The digital universe is full of viral videos of adults beating children. I view them warily, alert for triggers that catapult me back into the days of being viciously beaten by my adoptive mother, the wife of Pentecostal preacher with a penchant for sadistic violence in the name of “discipline.”
This latest video of a father, Greg Horn, beating his daughters with a cable cord for sneaking out of the house and for “twerking”—performing a popular sexually suggestive dance—zaps me to my childhood like a time machine. Watching the father heap unthinkable abuse on his own children, young girls in need of dialogue, firm and gentle guidance from a nurturing adult, renders me speechless.
This is how my adoptive mother used to whip me. Sometimes I was naked. “I’m not whipping no clothes,” she’d say. I can still see myself, like the two girls in this video, backed into a corner, small and quaking at the hatred she spewed with her hands and her mouth.
When I watched this horrible video, my fingers found their way to my right cheek, where the scars my adoptive mother inflicted feel like fleshy Braille, conveying coded messages of abuse that I see in the mirror on my face, legs, arms, and back. So many whippings. So many whippings I can’t even count. So many scars. Some of them have faded. Others I’ll die with.
As a young girl, I was not allowed to dance in my adoptive mother’s home–that would have been a reason for a beating. In the Pentecostal religion, dancing and listening to rap and other kinds of music was forbidden, viewed as “worldly” and ungodly.
But beating me with an extension cord until welts formed, until my skin was broken was somehow seen as okay in my home and in the larger black community I belonged to.
For all the people who think that it’s okay to beat a child with a cord, take a look at my scars. Look at them. Look at them real good.
Today I am 35 years old, and these scars have been with me since age 7, when my adoptive mother flailed away at me with a cord, much like the father did in that video. The night she scarred my face is a night that I’ll never forget: the screaming, the pleading, the stinging, the smell of my own flesh burning, the electricity ripping through my body. The sound of that cord cutting the air. Me kicking up my legs to try to block the blows. Me saying, “Stop mommy! I’m sorry mommy! I won’t do it again mommy!” Her grunting, yelling, breathing hard, spitting from her mouth, her voice sounding like a demon.
Every time I got whipped with an extension cord, the one thought that went through my mind was: I cannot survive this.
Why do we do this to our children? Beat them and scar them like slaves? And why do we call this good parenting? Why do we say things like “we need more fathers like Greg Horn?”
Every morning, when I look at my scars, I never say, “I’m glad my mamma whipped me,” or “I’m grateful that she beat me like that,” or “those whoopings kept me out of jail,” or “they made me the good person that I am today.” I don’t look at these scars and think, “This was love. This was discipline. Those beatings kept be from being beaten by the police or killed by some white person,” as I hear so many black folks say as a way to justify such cruelty against their children.
Getting whipped with a cord didn’t make me respect my adoptive mother. They were the ultimate breach of trust. The beatings put distance between us. They made me fear her. Hate her. Want to kill her. They didn’t teach me right from wrong. They taught me not to get caught doing wrong and they taught me early on that violence was the way to solve conflict instead of using critical thinking skills and proper communication. The beatings almost taught me to expect violence and to normalize it.
Ultimately, those beatings drove me to run away from my adoptive parents’ home and into the foster care system like legions of other abused black children who enter care. And far too many are becoming “crossover youth,” foster kids who end up in the juvenile justice and then the adult prison system. So if you think beating a child with a cord is good parenting, then don’t be surprised if your child ends up in one of these systems.
I watch this latest video and wonder what these girls are thinking, what they’re feeling toward their father. I wonder whether he is reacting to the unsettling sight and thought of his young daughters flaunting their budding sexuality, over-reacting horribly to what might be considered a normal source of discomfort. Or is he, like my adoptive mother was, an evil monster who can’t control his own responses, emotions, fears or frustrations?
I don’t know what the girls’ mother is like, but reportedly she saw the video online and called the police on her ex, the father. He has been indicted on charges of corporal punishment, as he should be. I applaud this mother’s actions even as she is being castigated by many people who think that she was wrong for calling the police on yet another black man who will likely do time.
As someone who miraculously managed to survive this kind of torture, I cannot for the life of me understand how anybody can rationalize this kind of behavior. These videos are often trailed by long comments on social media and Facebook threads where many people blame and insult the children. In the case of this “twerking” video, there were so many folk commenting that they were “little whores” and “bitches” that my stomach turned.
And I drew from well of my memories to put myself in those girls’ place. I knew their pain. Understood their jumbled emotions. Tasted their fear. Fingertips dancing over the legacy of hateful abuse that destroyed my childhood and marred my appearance.
No child deserves that kind of torture, regardless of what the parent (or abuser) might say to justify their choices, their lost control, anger management issues, and the unresolved pain and traumas they’re now inflicting on another generation. Children need guidance, not violence. Love, not lashings. Every child needs and deserves to feel safe in their homes. Safe, not scarred like me and Greg Horn’s daughters.
Dr. Stacey Patton, author of That Mean Old Yesterday – A Memoir, is an adoptee, child abuse survivor and former foster child turned children’s advocate, journalist, historian, college professor, and motivational speaker. She has written for The New York Times,Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Newsday and The Crisis Magazine. She blogs at Spare The Kids, where this piece originally was published.
1. Father Who Beat Daughters With Cable Wire For Twerking Should Be Charged With Child Abuse
2. Videotaped Beatings and Child Abuse Handbook Show Why Hitting Kids Is Dead Wrong
3. A Reformed Spanker Reveals Why She Wishes She Would Have Spared the Rod.
4. Spanking, Time-Outs and the Soul Train Line: Getting To the Discipline That Works For Us
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.