Bigotry by any other name
By Jordan Riak
August 1999

Whipping, hitting and spanking are torture. And torturing children comes easy to any society that perceives its children, not as living human beings, but as objects of derision, contempt, even hatred. This is no different from any other category of bigotry.

When lynching was commonplace in the United States, the groups that carried them out, and the larger society that tacitly approved them, did so without the faintest stirring of conscience or remorse. The perpetrators, their accomplices and multitudes of idle bystanders were, by all accounts, good, respectable, upstanding, patriotic, God-fearing citizens. In fact, there was a time when KKK membership was deemed a prerequisite to a successful career in public life. There was no contradiction. The victims of race hatred, after all, were seen as symbols, not human beings. Their principal function was to afford the over class a convenient receptacle, like a public toilet, for purging undesirable parts of one's self.

Anti-Semitism, which reached its zenith in Europe under Nazi management was the same, just better organized. Good folks everywhere participated, approved, looked on and felt cleansed and superior. A need was being fulfilled. Viewed in retrospect, the scale of the operation suggests they couldn't get enough. But back to children.

I imagine one might research an entire social anthropology from a vantage point near a busy supermarket checkout counter. Consider this scene: A few days ago I was waiting in a long line to pay for my groceries. Ahead of me was a mom with her sleeping infant. "Oh, how sweet. She's just soooo adorable," said the checkout clerk. Someone else joined in with: "That's the perfect age. I'd take her home with me in a minute, sweet little thing." Then another contributed, "But before y' know it, they're teenagers. Yuck!" Smiles of approval appeared on all faces within earshot. Then someone to the rear of me chimed in , "Yea! I've got two of those at home. So tell me about it. Anybody wanna trade? Give y' two big ones for one little one." Suddenly everyone was animated and familiar. In only a few seconds, interest in the sleeping infant had been eclipsed by shared contempt for teenagers. A path had been opened for spontaneous camaraderie among strangers, a kind of instant bonding. At another time and in another place good, law-abiding folks, just like the ones who shop at the market in your town and mine, were enjoying friendly banter about some other vilified class. Today, leading spankmongers such as Ezzo, Rosemond, Swindoll, Goodfathr and best-selling author James Dobson speak to just such a crowd.

Consider Rush Limbaugh's contribution to public discourse on the subject of childhood: "Were you abused as a child, did your parents spank you after you set the cat on fire?" And Canadian columnist Earl McRae informs his readers thus: "Things must really be slow down at the Ottawa-Carleton Children's Aid Society. The bleeding-heart, self-proclaimed, kiddie experts want you charged with a crime if you spank your kid when your kid deserves a spanking. Better, preaches the society, to deprive the little dumpling of a privilege."

And this which I found in my inbox on June 6, 1999:

I think you people have lost your minds..There is no doubt that some children are abused but there is also a big difference between a swat on the bum and a beating..and no one does not lead to the other. We are raising a whole generation of children who have no respect and discipline. Look around at the malls and street corners, do you think these kids were raised with discipline..most probably weren't. I work in a maximum security jail and I can assure you that the ones I have met were definitely in need of a spanking or two..Unfortunately it's too late and now the taxpayers are left to pay for them, perhaps a swat on the butt may have prevented some of them from coming in the system. Raising children in this generation is no easy task but lets not blow things out of proportion, a swat on the bum does not constitute abuse. I think it's time we stopped giving our kids excuses for their inappropriate behavior.
And this on July 25, 1999:
I have recently visited your NOSPANK web site. I am personally offened by most of the content. Reading articles that critized spanking children, I felt like I was a convicted criminal. Because I have spanked my children I have committed a mortal sin. I use spanking as a method of punishment. When my son, 5 years old, writes on his bed room walls with crayon I do not get upset. I tell him NO. I say that is bad. I take away his crayons. When he finds them in my dresser drawer and continues to write on my bedroom wall s I say NO. I tell him that is bad and I put him in time-out. I hide his crayons. When he finds them two hours later in my bathroom closet he gets spanked. After that experience he never wrote on the walls again. Now I want you people to tell me that what I did was morally wrong. That is completely insane. What you people are talking about is CHILD ABUSE, when it goes beyond just a slap on the bottom. Loving care and attention can be given along with some discipline.

As a general rule, I no longer reply to letters such as the two just quoted. There are too many of them and time is too precious. One had might as well try to reason amicably with white supremacists or anti-Semites. I never learned how to do that.

How then can we stop the child hitting if we don't persuade the child hitters? Fair question.

I believe the answer becomes apparent when we examine every other major social reform. I am not aware of one that was achieved by persuading the abusers of power to voluntarily cease and desist. Reform takes a different route. First, fair-minded, rational people - a small minority in the best of times - must be sensitized to a problem, be persuaded of its seriousness and be in possession of the tools to affect change. Abolition of judicial torture, presumption of innocence, emancipation of slaves, women's suffrage, desegregation, every social reform one can cite began as a radical, distinctly unpopular, minority position. But after the shouting stopped, and the correctness of a particular reform became self-evident, and the benefits generally felt, no one in his or her right mind wanted to return to the old ways. Subsequent generations assumed that things were always as they found them. Tell an American audience today that there was a time when married women were not allowed to manage their own bank accounts or to legally obtain contraceptives, and they will think you are joking or crazy. Tell an audience in Europe that in 1999 U.S. lawmakers in Nevada and Oklahoma enacted legislation to encourage adults to hit children, that those laws were enthusiastically received by the public, and they will think you are joking or crazy. Tell an audience in Texas that an entire generation of Swedish children have grown to adulthood without the benefits of spanking, and they think you are joking or crazy.

Consider this correspondence from Finland:

All corporal punishment of all people, including children, is banned by law here in Finland. Of course this does not mean that kids would not get spanked at all, but the general attitude of the society is that parents start spanking when they lack the intelligence to use some alternative method. A spanking parent is considered a bad parent - beating kids to compliance is a thing of the past.

What really got me started was the use of corporal punishment in education. I lack the words to describe how I feel about it. Plain disgusting! I couldn't even imagine before that this could happen in the USA that I consider a civilized country most of the time, attitude towards capital punishment being one of the few exceptions to the rule. Here a teacher can get in serious trouble if he/she ever even touches a pupil against his/her will. Corporal punishment in schools is unthinkable, particularly in the sense that was described in the story of the girl who got "disciplined" in high school.

I am sure that I am not the only person in this part of the world who feels like this. I just want you to know that I respect and admire your work to reduce brutality. We're entering the 21st century - in my opinion, nobody should even be discussing this topic anymore - the answer should be too clear to be debated over.

Eero Nevalainen, Finland, January 27, 1999

Were a medical research laboratory in Finland, or in any one of our other neighbors across the pond, to announce a cure for cancer tomorrow morning, every American would know about it by tomorrow evening. Cancer sufferers would expect, demand and obtain access to the new wonder drug. Is our issue less urgent? Why is the respectful, caring, nonviolent treatment of children - a proven wonder drug, surely! - ignored, rejected and viciously derided by the very people who need it most?

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