We’ve all seen it. The 2-year old who has fallen out, kicking and screaming in the middle of a store, or the mouthy, defiant teenager who’s rolling her eyes and her neck at everything. It’s easy to look at kids like that and think, “That kid needs is a good, butt whupping!”
According to a 2015 Pew Research survey, Black parents are more than twice as likely as White parents and nearly twice as likely as Hispanic parents to use corporal punishment to discipline their children on a regular basis. Black parents are also far less likely than White or Hispanic parents to never spank their children. And that’s the sort of parenting pathology that Dr. Stacey Patton hopes to combat.
Patton, who holds a Ph.D. in African-American History, and is the author of a new book, Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America, urges Black parents to look at the history and the impact of the practice and reconsider. EBONY.com sat down with Dr. Patton for an in-depth look at her findings.
EBONY: Why do you think we hit our children?
Dr. Stacey Patton: People think that hitting a child is a form of teaching. We think it will protect them. And people grow up to invert the violence they experience as children as something that was good, particularly in African-American culture. As a people, we attribute our success to having had our bodies processed through violence and quite frankly what it does is confirm a long-standing racist narrative about Black bodies. The only way to control us, the only way to make us “good,” law-abiding, moral people is with a good whupping. It seems that we unconsciously agree with that narrative.
EBONY: You said in your book that Black people are “the most locked up, unhealthy, stressed out, demonized group of people in America. Whupping children hasn’t saved us from any of this!” So why do you think we believe it has?
Dr. Stacey Patton: We don’t make the connection between the historical traumas, the science that talks about the psychological damage that hitting children has, the chronic illnesses that get produced by hitting children, the domestic violence between Black men and women or the shootings in the streets. We don’t take a moment to stop and look and say, “How much of that is attributed to what’s happened to us in the foundational moment of our lives (which is childhood)?” We don’t make those connections.
EBONY: You also explore the Black church in your book. You say the church has always urged parents to use “the rod of correction,” but then you point out that the phrase, “Spare the rod, spoil the child” isn’t actually in the Bible & Jesus was a gentle person who liked children. Would Jesus spank? Where did we get that from?
Dr. Stacey Patton: Firstly, I should say that I’m not a Christian, though I was raised in the Black church. In the New Testament there’s no evidence whatsoever, that Jesus hit children. Based on Jesus’ principals of empathy, love, and his directives to adults on how to treat children, I don’t think he would have whupped a child. The whole, “Spare the rod, spoil the child” misinterpretation is Old Testament. I pushed this conversation a little further to say, “Listen, first of all, African-Americans have only been Christians for about 200 years.” And we came to Christianity through our brutal, horrible and dark mistreatment during slavery. There’s absolutely no evidence that Black people in West Africa treated their children with this kind of ritualistic violence prior to contact with European missionaries. We need to interrogate this theology.
EBONY: Talk about the specific damage we do to our male and female children when we hit them.
Dr. Stacey Patton: I interviewed Black men to learn if there was any connection between mothers beating their sons as boys and how they grew up to treat women later in life. I found that many of their stories confirmed what the psychological literature had been saying for decades. These men grow up to have some really ugly attitudes towards women. I also found it striking that we don’t live in a society that believes that Black males experience pain. Far too many mothers look at their boys, particularly as their bodies grow—just as the larger, racist society does—and see their potential criminality. I’ve talked to mothers who say, “If I don’t beat my son, he’s going to knock me down some day.” And so anti-Blackness is filled into the ways that some Black mothers rear their sons.
EBONY: What should parents with a 3-year-old whose mind hasn’t developed enough to understand reason or a 16-year-old who’s rebelling?
Dr. Stacey Patton: We have to deconstruct our thinking about Black children. That’s half the battle right there. We have to throw away the fear, we have to throw away the cultural conditioning, and the racist ideas about Blackness. Parents must educate themselves in child development. What’s happening in your child’s brain at 2 years old? We need a public health program that teaches parents why their child is hitting, why a child fights and why a teenager may begin to suck her teeth. We are too inclined to think of a child as being intentionally willful when they’re actually not. Parents also have to reconnect with their own humanity. There’s this sort of intuitive response to beat out of their children the same things that were beaten out of them.
For more on Dr. Stacey Patton, visit www.sparethekids.com.
Keep up with Sylvia Snowden at www.trulysylvia.com.