One of the many conversations that I have with my black and brown friends a few times during the year is how and when our parents beat us. Although it was never a contest to see who got the most, worst, funniest beatings, somehow the conversation always went in that direction. I tell my story of my mother chasing me around the living room with a slipper, or tell them how I felt like my parents were tag teaming me because first I’d get beat from my mom and have to sit in the living room and wait for my dad to get home and get round 2. I hear the laughter of my friends. I hear the jumbled up exchanges of words and enthusiastic agreement when I said my parents would “give me something to cry about” even though they already have.
We shared how after beatings our parents would try to be friends with us by asking us what we want to eat. It was interesting to me that we shared it similar childhood experiences but I never thought about why that could possibly be. In reading Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped, I learn that her brother Joshua also goes through his experience of being terribly beaten by his father at a very young age. Jesmyn assumes that it is because her father is trying to protect Joshua, because he didn’t want his son to be another one of his long line of family members who died young in all the wrongs ways. Many of the untimely deaths were due to racism.
Because the color of their skin. However, no amount of beatings could increase Joshua’s life expectancy because he is black. Joshua was killed in a car crash caused by a drunk middle aged white man at the age of nineteen. The man who killed him was fined $14,252 which he never paid, and was sentenced to 5 years in prison, to which he only served three. Corporal punishment could not stop the death of young black boy or help him receive justice. This causes me to ask the question does corporal punishment help or hurt our young black children? Where does this ideology of using corporal punishment on children come from? What are the effects of allowing corporal punishment to be used on young black children? Is there a better way?
Corporal punishment, also known as physical punishment, is the infliction of physical pain upon a person’s body as punishment for a crime or infraction. This punishment includes but is not limited to flogging, beating, spanking, mutilating. This can be executed with the hand, other body parts or even objects. As stated in the definition, corporal punishment is used as a punishment for a person who commits a crime. Jesus was flogged before he was crucified. It was common practice in the middle ages for minor crimes. Corporal punishment has been around for a very long time, but when did punishment for criminals start being used by black people on their children?
By looking at the effect of slavery on black people, we can see how it has trickled down to what is considered to be “tough love” by black parents. I would like to note that although this happened to black people (Africans dispersed to many parts of the world), I am specifically focusing on African Americans. From the early 1600’s lasting to the end of the 1800’s, Africans were brought to the United States to become slaves. Their masters used any means necessary, from the minor to harshest form of corporal punishment to get the slaves to obey and submit to them. The slave masters actions were not interfered with by the court as long it did not cause harm to the community at large, so the slave masters could even go as far as killing a slave to receive submission. The slaves mirrored the slave masters actions onto their children, using strong corporal punishment to discipline their children to avoid harsher punishment from the slave masters.
This act of physical discipline was carried from generation to generation to what we see today. Even the objects used by black parents to beat their children resemble what the slave masters used to beat the slaves. Black people in the southern United States are more likely to punish their children with a weapon that resembles a whip, such as an electric cord, belt or switch applied to the back or bottom (Showers & Bandman, 1986). Black families trying to protect their children from the harsher punishments of a white man’s world. This is why Joshua’s father beat him. The beatings done by him will help prevent the harsher beatings done by the world that was created by the white man.
Through slavery was also the introduction of Christianity to African Americans, the use of religious beliefs furthered allowed for the use of corporal punishment on children. The passage in the Bible famously known as “spare the rod, spoil the child” was used as another reason to beat children. Many African Americans use the bible as a guideline to life and how to parent. Wanting to protect their children from the harsher corporal punishment from slave masters and the bible condoning corporal punishment together created the foundation for corporal punishment of many African Americans today.
However, is this corporal punishment helping or hurting black children? Studies show that they hurt black children. Black people are twice as likely to use corporal punishment on their children than white people. Between 2006 and 2015, more than 3,600 black children were killed as a result of maltreatment, according to the Administration for Children and Families. In the United States, there are 19 states that allow the use of corporal punishment in schools. Black children in Alabama and Mississippi are at least 51% more likely to be corporally punished than White children in over half of school districts, while in one-fifth of both states’ districts, Black children are over 5 times more likely to be corporally punished. In Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, Lousiana, and Tennessee, it is three times more likely for a black student to be corporally punished compared to their white counterparts.
Black boys have the highest overall rate of school corporal punishment at 16%, followed by White boys at 9%. Black boys are 1.8 times as likely as white boys to be corporally punished, while Black girls are 3 times as likely as White girls to be corporally punished. Not only are we killing and hurting our black children through corporal punishment in our homes, but we are also allowing further mistreatment in schools. This is in addition to the many black youths we lose to trigger happy cops and irritated racists.
Using corporal punishment on black children also perpetuates the idea that black children are unable to feel pain, the stereotypical picaninny. A picaninny was the dominant racial caricature of black children for most of this country’s history. Many stories that contained picaninny characters all had one common trait and that was that the black child was immune to pain. That pain and the inability to feel it was what separated white and black children. In black comedy, there are often multiple jokes about corporal punishment on black children.
We joke about how white people are too soft with their children and just giving their kids a little time out is why their kids act out. This perpetuates that black children are unable to feel pain because we make it seem like the only way a black child can be obedient is through severe beatings. I remember a few years ago, there was a point on social media where there were multiple black parents choosing to use harsh corporal punishment on their children for the world to see.
The objects being used to beat the children breaking against their body, the many videos that can be found like this further perpetuates the idea that black children can tolerate harsh corporal punishment. And it doesn’t manifest in the child’s brain as trauma, but love. Because the next day their mom or dad sends them to school with a long sleeve shirt to cover up their scars and tells them “I’m only doing this because I love you”. This idea of physical trauma being love only creates outlets to things like domestic violence, in which African Americans are more likely to experience than white Americans.
Many African Americans attribute their success and their kids success to corporal punishment. However, does corporal punishment really produce effective change? I got beatings multiple times and the first thing I wanted to do after I was dealt with was run away. Corporal punishment isn’t effective in teaching a lesson because. Research has reliably demonstrated that it seldom persuades children to act differently, since it doesn’t bring a comprehension of what they should do nor does it offer any sort of remuneration for being great. Also, parents frequently needing to beat for a similar misconduct by the same child also proved its ineffectiveness. Studies show that children who receive Corporal punishment are more likely to be more rebellious.
The NGO Coalition on Children’s Rights in Pakistan carried out a survey of children’s experiences in the North West Frontier Province and the older children spoke of rage and rebellion. That is just one negative effect of corporal punishment. Meta-analyses of hundreds of studies document that physical punishment is associated with: verbal and physical aggression; delinquent, antisocial, and criminal behavior; poorer quality of parent-child relationships; impaired mental health; and later abuse of one’s own spouse and children. The negative effects associated with beatings are far too many and further outlets to lose black children.
I don’t what it will be like to be a parent until I have children. I am also not trying to tell anyone how to raise their children. However, I do know that the negative effects associated with corporally punishing black youth are too fatal and too many. We have to find and instill a better way to punish our children. We must break the myth in black communities and cultures that corporal punishment is the best help black youth learn from their actions. One of the ways we can do this is simply by having conversations with one another.
The use of beatings on children is so deeply entrenched into black cultures that we often won’t have a rational conversation or be receptive to new information about the potential harms of hitting children. By opening dialogue, other effective and harmless forms of punishment can be introduced to the black community. Dr. Stacey Patton, a journalist, author, and child advocate asked three parents on how they feel about executing non-physical tactics. These tactics were taking away children’s valuables like toys and games and talking to their kids about why what they did was wrong. Overall, they felt this approach is more effective and feels better for both parties. Another way we can stop the use of corporal punishment is by communication.
If we use a communication as a tool instead of corporal punishment to teach a lesson, children will more likely learn their lesson instead. In addition, it will create a space for children to be open with their parents instead of being afraid. Sean Hines Jr., one of the people Dr. Stacey Patton interviews said once he stopped spanking his childer, he found that they were “easier to talk to, less afraid. That made it easier for me to educate them. They became more forthcoming with the truth.” Lastly, we can stop the use of corporal punish on black children through education. There are many parenting programs out there that are dedicated to helping parents understand better approaches to raising a child. Effective’s Black Parenting Program (EBPP) is a parenting skill-building program created specifically for parents of African-American children. Some of their goals are to prevent and treat child abuse and teach ways to cope with racism and prejudice.
If we abandon corporal punishment in the black community, it will reduce the number of black children getting killed. We will have less black children who grow up to be victims/aggressors of domestic violence because they associate love with physical pain. There will be a generation of children who do not joke about this traumatic way of punishment. Lastly, it will aid in ending the dehumanization of black children’s bodies.