R&B diva Gladys Knight used some pretty poor judgment yesterday on CBS’ “The Talk” when she weighed in on the alleged altercation between Janet Jackson and Paris Jackson. She had this to say:

See, I’m from the south and [we] was raised in that Southern way. You have to understand Paris is what, 14? How old is Janet? Who’s the one who tries to direct the other one here? And I would think that it’s a good thing she let Paris know who she is. She is a Jackson, she shouldn’t be putting the business out there like that. ’Cause people read into whatever they want to read into, that’s how they get the drama. So, she’s just trying to protect her, in a way. But if she [Paris] called me that, she wouldn’t have any teeth…. You respect your elders.

Sometimes, the quickest way to earn a side-eye is to try to slip a problematic comment into a conversation with the caveat that you’re joking, you’re “from the South,” or you’re black “and that’s just how we do.” This is one of those times.

Much has been said in recent months about acceptable forms of discipline for children. In the aftermath of Creflo Dollar’s high-profile assault charge, and in light of parents’ (and kids’) heightened propensity to use social media to protest or affirm disciplinary action, it’s clear discussions about the fine line between discipline and abuse are still quite relevant and necessary.

In this instance, Knight is responding to a report of an incident caught on video in which Janet tries to take Paris’ cell phone to curtail her tweeting and allegedly slaps her and calls the girl a “spoiled little b—-,” to which Paris responds, “This is our house, not the Jackson family house. Get the f–k out.” Knight’s comments about who should be directing whom here are warranted. If this is, in fact, what was said, both Paris and Janet were out of line and Paris, in particular, probably shouldn’t be ordering her older relatives off the grounds.Here’s where Mama Gladys went off the rails. She implies that Paris can’t question her aunt’s actions, regardless of how unfair they may be (and leaving kids to wonder after the whereabouts of their grandmother/legal guardian for nine days is generally considered unfair) or challenge her aunt’s authority, simply  because she’s a child and Janet’s an adult. Adults can be wrong. Relatives can be wrong. And in the absence of an adult/guardian willing to speak for them, children should be able to advocate for themselves.

Second, there’s the whole “she wouldn’t have any teeth” thing. When elders or “Southerners” (since Knight attributes this to regional attitudes and so does “The Talk” co-host Sheryl Underwood) use abusive language like “knock you into next week,” “slap the black off you,” and “kick your teeth in,” we’re all supposed to chuckle and quip about how Big Mama don’t play, because we know she doesn’t mean it literally and these are just scarier euphemisms for spanking. Regardless of where you stand on corporal punishment, it’s never a good idea to threaten a child with bodily harm as a way of keeping them in line.

Children don’t always understand hyperbole; they take the graphic violent threats seriously. They take it seriously because you’ve voiced it. Because you’ve voiced it, they think you’re capable of it. And if you, the incontestable adult, is capable of it, it must be behavior that’s acceptable to emulate.

In short: Threats may beget fear and fear may beget decent behavior (or silence), but they also create a culture of deep distrust. They also normalize abusive language and behavior in ways that are more damaging in the long-term than a rational, if heated, conversation is in the moment.
Of course, there are plenty of folk who’ll say, “It ain’t that deep.” But for the child whose parent is always talking about dottin’ his eye or beatin’ some sense into him, it’s deeper. And for Paris Jackson, whose father knew Gladys Knight when he was just a boy likely receiving those same kinds of threats at home, it’s an ironic, insensitive way for history to repeat itself.
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    The comments I seen on here shows why these kids now are just insanely out of control. Parents are afraid to discipline their kids. Then you get mad when it’s a cop beating your kid. If you done it in the first place you wouldn’t have to worry about pigs doing it. If more parents had those old down south views so many kids would not be mentally fcuked up. Back in those days kids weren’t hopped up on Prozac, Ritalin, and other behavioral type pills. Also, the kids weren’t talking back with a horrible attitude to any adult and weren’t using foul language in from of older adults.

  • Bebe

    I agree. I do not think we are at all desensitized to violence in our society. We certainly don’t ignore it when it manifests before us and we can respond to it quickly. However, I do believe that this nanny state existence has lent itself to a lot of folks minding people’s business simply because they disagree with an idea. I do not spank. I do not threaten children either. But, I have made some bona fide promises regarding my expectations for socialization and behavior.