You want to talk about a public health crisis? Consider this:
- Every four seconds, a black public school student is suspended; 6,916 are suspended each day.
- Every 57 seconds a black school student is corporally punished; 442 are corporally punished each day.
- Every three minutes, a black child is abused or neglected; 434 are abused or neglected each day.
- Every 14 minutes, a black child is arrested for violent crimes; 104 are arrested each day.
- Each day, one black child is killed by abuse or neglect.
- Every two days, a black child or teen commits suicide.
- Every day, four black children or teens are killed by firearms.
The scary part is that somewhere along the way, many of us have been participants – wittingly or unwittingly – in the abuse of black children and provoking the anger that many law enforcement, social work and mental health experts say fuels some of the behavior that results in poor outcomes for many black youth.
Many of those statistics, provided by the Children’s Defense Fund, were all too familiar to Stacey Patton.
“When I was growing up, it was ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child,’ You remember all the hair salon banter (about beatings at the hands of adults in the family). When you turn on a black comedy on TV, it was there. It was a perverse degradation ... it became the expected thing to do,” Patton told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
Stacey Patton, author & children's rights activist. Read Ms. Patton's That Mean Old Yesterday and visit her Web site SparetheKids.com.
And black Americans, in some ways, have become inured to the violence.
“As a people, we expect to be dealt with violently - by the police, in adult relationships. As women, we feel we have to protect ourselves and act tough,” Patton said.
She wanted to stop the violence. And it starts, she said, with ending the abuse against children.
Her web site, SparetheKids.com, launched in April, is designed to give black families an alternative to corporal punishment and the tools to help foster the healthy development of children physically, socially, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
The site provides several sections with parental aids. Ask Mother Wit, a comic strip on the site, provides tips on raising and disciplining children without violence. Parent Time Out exhorts parents, “Before you hit the kid, hit the keyboard” and join an interactive forum for parents and guardians to discuss ways to handle frustrations, and Share Your Story allows adults to share their thoughts in writing or via video about being hit as children and how it made them feel.
“Some people make a distinction between corporal punishment and assault, but I don’t,” Patton said.
The storytelling among black folks about the worst whipping they ever got as kids or they administered to the children fails to amuse Patton, nor does she accept the oft-muttered argument by parents and guardians to their children that they spank the kids because they love then and don’t want them to go astray.
“For me, as a child, that was confusing because I thought love had to hurt. I thought a loving touch was something aggressive or something hard,” Patton said.
While on tour for her memoir, “Mean Old Yesterday,” which chronicled Patton’s journey through abandonment, adoption and foster homes to become an accomplished journalist, writer and scholar (in May, she received her PhD in African American history from Rutgers University), Patton, who is childless, was confronted by parents who accused her of not understanding the day-to-day struggles of raising children.
“I had some black people say, 'I can’t embrace this. What do you want me to do?'” Patton said. “So that’s where Spare the Kids came into play. You can look at the sites about child rearing, but they’re boring. They didn’t speak to the day-to-day realities of being an African-American parent. I wanted something more technologically advanced and savvy."
“I’m really trying to change the conversation. I don’t argue. I find African-Americans who don’t believe in hitting children, who don’t believe in tearing children down. I find examples of kids who turned out okay (without spanking). We have ministers who teach the loving, nonviolent way that the Bible tells us to raise children,” Patton said.
The site is growing slowly, Patton said, but she hopes the message will soon spread more quickly.
It will all have been worth it, she said, “if I could save just one kid, one kid is going to have a better life.”