Louis C.K. once delivered a rant on corporal punishment during his standup act. He lambasted parents who hit their kids remarking how—as a culture—it’s somehow far more acceptable for grown people to strike defenseless children rather than dogs or total strangers. But after going in on parents for several minutes, he quickly recanted by taking a more empathetic tact toward parents who struggle financially. The comedian noted that his own mother “hit him all the time.” While C.K. says he doesn’t hit his own kids, that doesn’t make him a better parent than his mother, citing that the only difference is that “she was poor, and he has money.”
“My mom was a single mom. She’d come home after fifteen hours of work [and I’d be complaining about something] and she’d smack me and tell me to shut up,” C.K. recounts. In contrast, he jokes that—as a comedian—he “works” less than two hours a week (although probably even far less than that nowadays given sexual misconduct allegations).
C.K’s point seems to be that exercising restraint as a parent is essentially based on privilege. It’s an astute observation about the economics of parenting—one that instinctively makes sense if you’ve grown up in a single parent or low-income household. But public opinions on spanking don’t typically account for socio-economic differences. Turns out most people still condone some form of corporal punishment, though the research now points to how spanking is potentially damaging to children.
However, there are also varying degrees of punishment along with differences in cultural expectations. When it comes to discipline, what happens in the home of a black family can be very different than that of a white family.
Other comedians—and their moms—have commented about spanking as well. In 2017, Kevin Hart gave a shout out to Wanda Durant for her tactics in raising her son and Finals MVP awardee Kevin Durant. Hart jokingly observed that Momma Durant is still “whooping her boy” after all this time, accounting for his upstanding as a grown man.
Rose Rock, mother of famed comedian Chris Rock, interviewed in 2010 about her newly released memoir on parenting reflections, entitled Mama Rock’s Rules: Ten Lessons for Raising a Household of Successful Children. Ms. Rock, who recalls raising ten kids along with numerous foster children, asserted that spanking was a key tool. But she also was careful to point out that spanking shouldn’t be reactionary. Her patient, measured approach was far more appropriate and less psychologically damaging compared to the toxic verbal abuse of other parents.
In both cases, the argument is that spanking—done the right way—promotes discipline and builds character. And if there’s any rebuttals, one has only to look at the results. Surely Rock and Durant have done more than okay. But neither of them grew up with money, and so the question remains about whether overall financial stability factors into parental views on spanking. Not only that, but is it fair for a middle-class suburban family to hold that spanking is unilaterally unacceptable? Louis C.K. would argue that it’s not.
While we progress as a society, it’s important to remember taking a hard stance against spanking becomes—as with many things—a lot easier as money pressures abate. This means we also have to strive for fair treatment for youth in other areas. For states that still allow corporal punishment in schools, black students are more likely to receive corporal punishment than their white counterparts. Combined with other educational disparities, this sends the apparent message that black kids are not only more of a disciplinary problem, but that they should be punished more severely. If a kid gets in trouble at school and then in turn receives discipline at home, the mental and emotional damage inflicted could be twice as harmful.
If we’re going to argue that spanking is at best a necessary utility for the underprivileged, then we should simultaneously argue for more equitable educational opportunity.