An Open Letter to Jamie Foxx: It Wasn't the Whippings, Jamie, It was the Love
By Dr. Teresa Whitehurst
March 1, 2005

Dear Jamie,

I'm a big fan of yours, and "Mr. Foxx" sounds so stilted-please forgive the first-name basis; it feels like I know you, having laughed at your antics for years. Like you, I cherish my grandmother, long departed, so I hope you'll consider my words with an open heart.

When you accepted the Oscar, you were thrilled, but also thankful for those who helped you develop the qualities by which you've achieved so much. You didn't just grab the award and drop impressive names; you sent up a word of love to your grandmother. I know, because I do it myself in much smaller ways, all the time.

Nor did you forget those not-famous people in your life who long ago took the time and trouble to guide your rambunctious spirit into positive channels. You thanked your grandmother, which is rare in these fundamentalist "focus on the nuclear family" days when only the husband/father is considered a family leader.

Clearly your grandmother was a leader, for she took the time to set limits and instill in you a vision of the man you could become. (2/28/05) reports that:

"She was my first acting teacher. She told me stand up straight, put your shoulders back, act like you got some sense. We would go places and I would wild out, and she would say 'act like you been somewhere.'" So often the "invisible people" are forgotten as soon as the actor or politician or athlete becomes famous. You didn't let this happen, and millions were influenced by your public remembrance of your grandmother's time, attention and care.

But something else you said may influence those same millions, with tragic results:

"And when I would act the fool, she would beat me, would whup me. And she could get an Oscar for the way she whupped me, cause she was great at it. And after she whupped me, she would talk to me and tell me why she whupped me. And she still talks to me now. But she talks to me in my dreams. And I can't wait to go to sleep tonight, because we got a lot to talk about.""

I've heard a few other actors say that as children they were "bad" or "wild", and deserved to be hit, sending the message that some kids can't learn any other way and thus have to be hit. "All they understand is force"-isn't this America's "lock 'em up", "just war", "torture-is-acceptable-in-some-cases" mantra today?

What I'm sure you didn't consider (and neither, I imagine, do others who've said similar things) is that other people are listening, and many of them are mentally unstable, have criminal records, or are just plain mean. When influential people confuse the lash with good discipline, they inadvertently sow the seeds of abuse. "Spare the Rod and Guide the Child" Jesus on Parenting

In the Old South, whipping was the preferred method for disciplining slaves; sadly, this remnant of slavery has not yet been abolished in America. Parents-some of them violent or mentally ill-will hear such words with great satisfaction. The next time Child Protective Services is at the door, they'll gloat that there's nothing wrong with a "good whupping': "Just look at Jamie Foxx! He got whipped, and look how he turned out!"

I know-I've worked with child protection agencies. Nothing pleased the drunken bully who "whupped" his frightened child until she urinated on herself, like telling us that this or that famous person "got whupped and it sure didn't hurt them none!"

Most distressing is the fact that in this Brave New America, science has taken a back seat. Just three sentences praising domestic violence from someone of your stature will be believed, in the TV-addicted public's mind, over volumes of research papers condemning it. It doesn't matter what studies reveal about the negative effects of spanking, paddling and whipping-who are you going to believe, personal testimony or science?

Not only will people believe what you say more than what family therapists, pediatricians and researchers write about the side-effects of spanking, they'll never even hear what those professionals have to say. Most Americans see only the news that the mainstream media chooses to publicize, and spanking is promoted so vigorously by rightwing pundits like James Dobson, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that neither the morning shows nor the evening news programs are willing, in today's fundamentalist climate, to air stories on scientific research that doesn't support spanking and other forms of violent discipline.

For instance, here's research news that American parents will probably never see:

"Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, assistant professor in the School of Social Work and the study's author, used data from three years (1994, 1996 and 1998) of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which examined the effects of corporal punishment…

"Even minimal amounts of spanking can lead to an increased likelihood in antisocial behavior by children," says Grogan-Kaylor, whose findings are published in the September issue [2004] of Social Work Research. In addition, the study found no evidence for differences in the impact of physical punishment across racial and ethnic groups…."The U-M study analyzed data from more than 1,800 children. Mothers were asked about their children's particular bad behavior, such as cheating/lying, bullying, breaking things deliberately or getting in trouble in school. In addition, they were asked the frequency of times they spanked their child in the past week.

""This study provides further methodologically rigorous support for the idea that corporal punishment is not an effective or appropriate disciplinary strategy," Grogan-Kaylor says."

Will parents see this study? I doubt it, Jamie, unless people like you help to spread the news, because science that conflicts with tradition is increasingly discounted and repressed in this country. But why on earth would you do that, when I've challenged your claims regarding this part of your grandmother's guidance?

The answer is simple: Because you already know that the best thing your grandmother did for you wasn't the whipping, it was the love.

Teach Our Parents Well

So often, people who've found success assume that whatever they endured as a child must have made them who they are today. In some ways, they're correct-we've all been influenced by many things, both good and bad, from both family and friends.

But in another way they're dead wrong: It wasn't the violence, it was the ongoing warmth, time, attention and concern for them as children that instilled the best qualities they now have as adults. When getting hit precedes constructive criticism or inspirational talks, we may assume that the "getting hit" part was what helped us. It wasn't. In fact, for ever child who "makes it" in this world despite violent parenting, many others grow up to be hostile, indifferent to others' feelings, rageful towards authority figures, and always looking for a fight: "antisocial" is the diagnosis, prison is the home address.

What really helped you were the other things you were lucky enough to receive in addition to the hitting. Your grandmother took the time to talk with you, to guide you, to refuse to let you run wild, as you say. This is what pro-spankers miss: the good stuff is what helps the child, not the hitting.

Harvard professor Alvin Poussaint, M.D., consultant to The Cosby Show for eight years and the author of Lay My Burden Down: Unraveling Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis Among African-Americans (2000), has condemned whippings in school, as The Commercial Appeal (10/13/04) reports in "School paddling debate gains national attention; Prominent black leaders take firm stand against corporal punishment":

"Alvin Poussaint, a board member of anti-paddling group EPOCH-USA, has rallied the support of top black leaders in a call against corporal punishment in Memphis schools and others nationwide. In a press release sent to city school board members Tuesday, Poussaint called Memphis data that showed black males are disproportionately paddled "outrageous."

""We feel this is archaic and turns many of them against school", said Poussaint. "It's important for the black community to realize that the leaders they respect so much are on the record against corporal punishment in schools.""

For the sake of all those children whose parents will now "whup" them because you said it's what made you a success-some of them brutally, or in ways that are sexually disturbing-please, Jamie, correct the impression that violence against children is necessary in our violent world.

I know that spanking is a tradition, but some traditions should be discarded. Not so long ago (or maybe it is to you, since I easily recall the early 1970's!), I remember Christian men saying that every wife needs "a good slap" now and then, because otherwise they'd "get uppity" and threaten the family by "trying to run one ship with two captains". Jamie, for all the kids out there whose parents are listening, I hope you'll emphasize the nonviolent guidance and encouragement that your grandmother gave you-the inspiring words that you, and so many kids like you, need to hear: 'Act like you been somewhere.'

Dr. Teresa Whitehurst is a clinical psychologist, author of Jesus on Parenting: 10 Essential Principles That Will Transform Your Family (2004) and coauthor of The Nonviolent Christian Parent (2004). She offers parenting workshops, holds discussion groups on Nonviolent Christianity, and writes the column, "Democracy, Faith and Values: Because You Shouldn't Have to Choose Just One" as seen on her website,


Return to Project NoSpank Table of Contents at