In a startlingly frank discussion with Oprah Winfrey on her show, the parents of the late Michael Jackson admitted they disciplined their kids with a strap, and Winfrey said that she too was whipped as a child.
"Do you regret those strappings on your children?" Winfrey point-blank asked Joseph Jackson, father of music legend Michael, who had been physically disciplined as a child. No, he didn't regret them, said Jackson senior in the televised interview broadcast Monday.
However stark the response from Joe, what may have been the even bigger surprise came just before the talk-show host posed the question.
During a discussion on the fine points between being beaten or whipped – during the segment, Oprah announced, "I was beaten as a kid because that was the culture, that was the way we were raised."
Katherine Jackson, Michael's mother.Katherine said, "You might as well admit it: That's the way black people raised their children. He used a strap."
Today on "The View," Whoopi Goldberg took a broader look. "One of the reasons particularly old-school black parents took such strength with this is because one little mess-up outside could get you arrested or killed, as it did Emmett Till," she said. The reason for not letting your kids "run amok" was there was a lot at stake. "Their attitude was, 'You're representing me, you're representing black people.'"
But is the kind of physical discipline described by the Jacksons too high a price to pay, even though Oprah herself applauded when Joseph Jackson claimed that none of his nine children ever wound up in jail, presumably because of his hard-line tactics?
"Corporal punishment is a heritage of the western world and is not unique to the black community," said Halford Fairchild, a professor of psychology at Pitzer College, in Claremont, Calif., who has an expertise in black American psychology. "Unfortunately, the media – and Oprah herself is a media mogul – has a long history of pathologizing the African American community."
Fairchild added, "It would have been beneficial if Oprah had noted that the problem of corporal punishment is one that affects families of all races, and if she had cautioned viewers not to assume that the Jacksons' behavior and attitudes were applicable to all black families.
"Although child abuse statistics suggest that the problem is somewhat greater in the Black community, it is unclear whether these trends are due to race or social class." Because of Michael Jackson's massive fan base, there's little doubt the world will zero in on his parents' comments, thereby putting this issue in the public eye. And that may be a good thing.
"The problem with corporal punishment is that the line between child discipline and child abuse is an easy one to cross," said Fairchild. "Punishment teaches children that inflicting pain on others – is permissible."
The TMZ web site, which posted a video of this conversation, already has more than a hundred posts addressing the Jacksons' comments. "It's all semantics." one commenter wrote. "You can beat someone with your hands, or you can beat someone with a strap. It's all the same. A beating is a beating." Several people wrote that, as white children, they also received beatings.
On the MichaelJacksonchitchat.com web site, an editorial included the statement, "When cornered during the interview, he [Joseph] crossed his arms in defiance and excused his way through his explanation. Seems he has no issue with what he did or how much pain it caused his young son."
In an interview that aired in February 1993 Michael Jackson admitted to Oprah that his father hit him. "Some may call it a strict disciplinarian or whatever, but he was very strict. He was very hard. Just a look would scare you," Michael said. "There's been times when he'd come to see me, and I would get sick. I'd start to regurgitate."