At the Queen’s Park Savannah one evening last year, I heard a child’s screams coming from the inside of a panel van. I asked the vendor whose van it was, what was happening. “It’s my daughter,” he said. “The grandmother beating she.”
I moved closer to the van. All doors and windows were shut tight. I heard the repeated sounds of a strap landing on young flesh.
“Why are you letting her beat your child like that?” I asked the vendor.
“Is she grandmother,” he replied. “She raise she hand for the lady, so she getting licks.”
“And you wonder where she learned to raise her hand for people?” I asked.
After a minute or so of me and other customers telling him to make it stop, he opened the door to the van and extracted his child.
Granny had a belt doubled up; she was dripping in sweat from the exertion of the assault. The child, no more than four or five, was wet with sweat and snot; when the door opened she bolted outside and ran off. Her father followed to gather her up.
Most of us, the descendants of enslaved and indentured peoples, have known only violent retribution for all of our history in this New World space; beaten for centuries by masters, we learned to inflict violence on others and accept violence to ourselves. Most now rabidly defend it and actively advocate it.
Each non-violent alternative is met with sneers and anti-American contempt, never mind that most Caribbean people easily adopt an overwhelming amount of Americanisms that are considerably less progressive and never mind, too, that it is really Europe—the former violent masters—that is moving away from violent discipline and not the US.
Here, nothing is considered as effective, as productive and as satisfying as violent punishment, which perhaps also helps to explain why citizens verbally abuse one another when they have a difference of opinion. I expect to be verbally assaulted for my position that violence creates many problems and solves few, if any. Such is the dysfunction inscribed in post-colonial thinking that even if someone thought not to verbally assault me for my views on this topic, he/she will say, “Well, you expecting assault? Here’s some.”
It is a stroke of colonial genius that former enslaved and indentured peoples have come to feel the violence bequeathed to us is indigenous to us, that we have devised this beating of children all on our own, out of our own considered and studied analyses.
Call child beating what it is: violence. The definition does not change because it is a parent beating his/her child, nor does it change because of the degree of violence.
The various discourses engaging the country following the beating of the 12-year-old are a window into the dysfunction pervasive in this post-colonial region. Numerous defences of the violence have emerged: a good cut tail never hurt anyone; I get level licks and I turned out okay; I glad I get licks; this talking-to-children thing is American, not Trinidadian.
Some appear more affected by the cussing than the violence, which I find a sad and frightening thing to contemplate. Some people have chopped the violence into fine bits: the belt didn’t look like one of those really hard, leather belts; 15 strokes would have been enough but not 60, etc.
People have been analysing the violence in ways superior to how they analyse any other topic; they have applied tremendous skill to the task of defending why committing acts of violence against children is a good, irrevocable practice. Parents are willing to make jail in order to continue beating their children, martyr themselves in order to continue violent practices.
Some, too, have expressed some fantasies of violence that are chilling: if was my child, she woulda be on drips; if that was my daughter, she dead all now. Some have itemised various forms of torture they would have inflicted, an unnerving response by itself and particularly so because these people see nothing wrong with these fantasies.
This is the country we have created, the same country which expects that once people assume high office, they have to transform into virtuous office holders of unflagging integrity.
The Prime Minister, for her part, should be apologising to the nation for her inaction since assuming office rather than now casually feeding a national firestorm. Where are the public education programmes on parenting? Where is the long list of support services for parents and children that would make available options for families who need guidance, education and resources in order to raise their children without resorting to violence?
Where are the community workshops and seminars that would educate parents on the various stages of children’s development so that parents would know that tantrums are to be expected at this age; that sexuality is awakening at this age; that children are receptive to peer pressure at this age; that if your child is not learning the maths, maybe he/she should be assessed for dyscalculia; that a child’s attention span is short at this age; that many countries have outlawed beating children and these things are in place to help; that laws are needed that are less punitive and more compassionate to parents and children?
The country will continue to inflict, defend, fantasise about and fetishise violence until we all look closely and honestly at ourselves and our history.