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One of the many conversations that I have with my black and brown friends during the year is about the beatings we received from our parents. Although it was never a contest to see who got the funniest beatings, somehow the conversation always went in that direction. I told my friends that I felt like my parents were tag teaming me because first I’d get beat from my mom and would have to sit in the living room and wait for my dad to get home and get round 2.
I heard the enthusiastic agreement when I’d say my parents told me they’d “give me something to cry about” as if they didn’t do that already. We shared how after beatings our parents would try to be friends with us by asking us what we want to eat. It interested to me that we shared similar childhood experiences but I never thought about why that could possibly be.
When I read Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped, I learned 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 wants 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. 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 a 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, or mutilating. This can be executed with the hand, other body parts or even objects. Corporal punishment dates back centuries. Jesus was flogged before he was crucified and 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?
The effect of slavery on black people, shows how corporal punishment has trickled down to what is considered to be “tough love” by black parents. From the early 1600s until the end of the 1800s, 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. The slaves used 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.
Through slavery was also the introduction of Christianity to African Americans. The passage in the Bible famously known as “spare the rod, spoil the child” furthered the use of and justified corporal punishment on children. Many African Americans use the bible as a guideline to life and how to parent. The parents need 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.
The use of corporal punishment on black children also perpetuates the idea that black children are unable to feel pain like the picaninny, further dehumanizing black children. 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. A few years ago, there was a point on social media where there were multiple black parents who chose to use harsh corporal punishment on their children for the world to see. No matter how much the child would scream or cry, the beating was not done until the parents decided. When parents publicly beat their children, it is no different than the picnics white people had to publicize the killing of black people. What this leads to is further dehumanization of black children. This dehumanization is what leads to violence of teachers on black children in schools.
Studies further show that corporal punishment does harm to 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–that is 500% 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. 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 many black youths we lose to trigger happy cops and irritated racists.
Many African Americans attribute their success and their kid’s success to corporal punishment. However, does corporal punishment really produce effective change? 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. Also, parents frequently needing to use corporal punishment for a similar misconduct by the same child also proved its ineffectiveness. And it doesn’t manifest in the child’s brain as trauma, but love. Because the next day the child’s parent 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 causes domestic violence, in which African Americans are more likely to experience than white Americans. 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 way for black youth to 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 intensely ingrained into black cultures that we seldom will have a rational conversation or be receptive to new information about the potential harms of corporal punishment on 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 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, all the parents felt this approach is more effective and feels better mentally and physically for both parent and child. Another way we can stop the use of corporal punishment is by communication. If we use 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 children, 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.
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