I watched previews of the recent interview that Oprah Winfrey did with Joe and Katherine Jackson, parents of the late Michael Jackson. In the interview, Oprah asked the Jacksons a probing question that sits on the minds of millions of people: Did you beat your children? Mr. Jackson had to answer the question truthfully, since everyone knows that he did engage in the act of physically disciplining his kids. Before his confession, Joe did a little Bill Clinton-like wordplay with Oprah over exactly what she meant by the word “beat.” I understood what Joe was talking about, since there is a big difference between “beating” your kids and “whoopin” them.
What I am about to say might surprise you, but if you are from a traditional African American family, it probably does not. Most black kids in my generation got “whooped” by their parents, and many of us don’t regret it. Your mother “whooped” you because she loved you, perhaps with a belt, her hand or whatever creative object happened to be nearby. This is the subject of many jokes by black comedians and something with which nearly every black person in America can identify.
I’m not sure if it’s right or wrong to “whoop” your kids. But I can say that “whooping” me was a way for my mother to keep me in line. Had she tried to put me in time out or simply talk me into behaving properly, I would have probably laughed in her face. Most of us have seen the kid in the grocery store who needs to be “whooped”: He orders his mother around like a soldier and drives everyone else crazy with his ridiculous and loud behavior. Kids like that need to be disciplined in a way that will instill the fear of God into their little butts. They are even worse when they are teenagers, and end up becoming the kids who get caught shoplifting or having a little weed in their book bag. It only gets worse as they get older.
So, I will be the first to say that as long as Joe Jackson didn’t do any long-term bodily harm to his children, I have no problem with the idea that he might have disciplined them physically. Raising boys is not easy, and I am an advocate of having a strong father figure to keep them in line. This is especially true in a world where black boys are more likely than others to be caught up in the prison system, the morgue or the unemployment line. If Joe had not disciplined his children when they were young, society would have done the disciplining for him. The difference is that society would not have been nearly as compassionate as their father.
It must also be remembered that Joe Jackson was the primary reason for the development of arguably the greatest entertainer in the history of the world. You don’t get to be as great as Michael Jackson was without serious discipline. You can’t have the impact that the Jackson Five had without a tremendous amount of focus, determination and commitment. So, I fully expect that Joe Jackson ran his house like a drill sergeant, but it takes that kind of leadership to do something great. So, as much as the world wants to vilify this black man for raising a good family, I want to be the first to say that he might likely be a hero. We need to get off Joe Jackson’s back.