Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Précis #1: Does spanking harm the black community

Steven A. Holmes, Pulitzer Prize winner and executive director of CNN’s Office of Standards and Practices, in his opinion piece entitled “Does spanking harm the black community?”, from CNN’s opinion section, posits that evidence overwhelmingly proves that the practice of spanking has deeply unfortunate effects on African Americans. In fact, he claims that “[t]he negative effects on children of any race are undeniable” (Holmes). 

Holmes employs pathos, ethos, and figurative language to bolster his point. Attempting to stir within the reader indignation at the tragedies created in children by way of spanking, he relates that the practice leads to “anger, hostility toward authority, undermines trust between parent and child and spawns antisocial behaviors” (Holmes 7). Even more upsetting is his statistic-less claim that “these damaged kids” will grow up to be “irresponsible adults” who “beat their wives and girlfriends, and of course, their children (Holmes 11, 9). Next, he quotes significant figures in the black community like Whoopi Goldberg and Charles Barkley, who defend spanking by asserting that their lives went in positive directions despite or because of having been spanked. Holmes later dismisses their stories with the question, “[h]as anybody asked the thousands of black men … on death row or strung out on drugs or contemplating suicide -- whether they were spanked and whether they turned out all right?” (Holmes 17). Instead, he quotes Harvard psychologist Alvin Poussaint’s assertion that “it's a lot easier to pull the trigger when you’re enraged,” referring to the supposed anger and violence that is fostered in children who are spanked (Holmes 10). He also supports his argument with a question posed by associate professor Tracie O. Afifi, who asks, “with so many nonviolent means of disciplining your child available to you, why would you choose one that has the potential of doing long-term damage?” (Holmes 12). He employs their authority to bolster his position. Finally, he utilizes figurative language, using a metaphor to compare African American’s tradition of spanking to other “revered” pastimes like “…eating fried catfish… or doing The Cupid Shuffle at a wedding reception” (Holmes 1). Holmes also employs a simile to compare the passing down of “treasured family heirlooms” to the generational continuance of the act of spanking. Through his use of comparisons he is able to mock African-Americans' supposed love of the dangerous practice of spanking.

Holmes’ purpose is to convince the reader of the repercussions of spanking and its contribution to the waywardness of young African-Americans. To do this, he utilizes matter-of-fact diction. He asserts that “the the streets may not have been so mean if they were not populated by so many kids who are angry at the world because… they were spanked” and that the practice leads to “anger, depression, violence and alcohol and drug abuse" (Holmes 15, 7). This clinical, to-the-point diction exemplifies his disconnect with the black experience and contributes to his obnoxious tone. Syntactically, he employs several em dashes. He asks “can we, as black people, stop waxing nostalgically -- and defensively -- about this particular child-rearing practice…?” (Holmes 6). These pauses in his thoughts mirror the gaps between his perception of the black condition and reality, and contribute to his obnoxious tone.

I disagree with Holmes. His position on spanking is backed by the evidence that it creates the stereotypical dangerous black youth who loiters by liquor stores instead of going to school. He offers up the menacing black man that makes women clutch their purses without any real evidence of such men actually existing, or that spanking made them that way. His point is invalid because it doesn’t speak to the numerous other factors that go into producing “irresponsible” or “damaged” adults (Holmes 11). The truth is that spanking is a time-honored practice that is simply a form of punishment where a loving household is involved and excessive force is not used. Anything outside of this is likely abuse and is only a contributing factor to why people become delinquents. Until Holmes learns to express himself without stereotypes and condescension, it is unlikely that he will be able to put a real world face on his ideas.

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