Time to Spare the Rod in Black Communities
By Stacey Patton, April 13, 2010

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. During this time of heightened awareness I want to challenge black communities everywhere to change the conversation on how we discipline our children.

Though people are still talking about how the Oscar-nominated film Precious has taken the lid off of child sexual abuse in African-American communities, sexual abuse is not far more prevalent in African-American homes, nor is it the most typical form of abuse facing black children today.

The Child Welfare League of America defines physical abuse as “striking, kicking, burning, or biting the child, or any action that results in a physical impairment of the child.” But African Americans have publicly argued that hitting with a belt, switch, ironing cord, or even slapping a child in the face is not abuse. Black parents who choose “time-out” or other non-violent tactics are accused of acting like white folks. While child abuse in the United States extends across race and class lines, the latest statistics show that black children suffer and die at disproportionate rates.

A look at recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates that 12 percent of black child abuse cases reported nationally involve sexual violation versus 51 percent for whites and 18 percent for Latinos. However, black children suffer disproportionate rates of physical maltreatment at nearly 30 percent. The Association of Children and Families reports that 17 out of every 1,000 black children are abused, versus 10 and 9 for every 1,000 Latino and white children, respectively.

Of the 1,760 children who died in 2007 from abuse related injuries, 26 percent were black. Most child abuse victims of all races were under the age of four, and most of the perpetrators were single mothers.

In the face of these sobering numbers, black communities should be outraged. Where are the black voices speaking out against the rampant abuse of black children? Rather than speaking out against all forms of physical abuse, we celebrate and promote spanking, “popping,” “whupping,” and “beating” and even affirm the violence as a distinctly African-American cultural tradition.

Both the silence and the righteous defense of spanking that takes place in churches, beauty salons, barbershops, black radio airwaves, popular films, the blogosphere, and now FaceBook and YouTube, all contribute to the alarming rates of child abuse in our communities. There is a cultural specificity, and even a perverse embrace of child violence, that contributes to the problem in black communities.

A 1998 survey of child discipline research published by a Syracuse University professor revealed how black scholars noted that racism informs the ways parents choose to raise their children. Black parents believe that firm discipline is necessary as a way of protecting their children from a society that has a very narrow window of error for black youth. Other scholars contend that physical discipline is a residual of slavery.

Generations later, the traumatic effects of slavery continue to function as an unconscious influence on how black parents respond to child behaviors.

Some black ministers promote violence against children by invoking Old Testament scriptures; in many cases the same verses once used to sanction violence against women and slaves. Faith leaders and congregants cite Proverbs 13:24: “ He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” Another popularly quoted scripture is Proverbs 23:14: “Though shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.”

Comedians humorize abuse by sharing colorfully wrenching vignettes about plucking switches off trees or running from black mothers wielding belts, cords, and high-heeled shoes. Richard Pryor, the first mainstream black comedian, graphically illuminated the dynamic in a 1970s routine in which he joked about his grandmother whipping him with switches and cords. The once Jello-peddling television dad Bill Cosby has been one of the most famous advocates of spanking. In some of his comedy material he riffed on spanking his son Ennis and even threatened his on-screen son Theo Huxtable in one episode by saying – “I brought you in this world and I’ll take you out.” The late Bernie Mac, D.L. Hughley, and lesser-known comedians continue to inspire laughter in Black Entertainment Television routines.

Top syndicated radio personalities such as Michael Baisden and Tom Joyner continue to provide platforms that oftentimes fail to challenge the prevailing view that hitting children is necessary. And some of the most accomplished African Americans have noted their pride in having been whipped. For example, former New York Mayor David Dinkins claimed that his success was linked to being whipped in the bathtub by his mother and grandmother for stealing.

We laugh at the pain inflicted on children, or we keep quiet while the residual effects continue to destroy our children and communities.

We often cite white racism, poverty and stress, the mean streets, violent video games, rap music, and even this generation’s “bad” children as reasons to justify unhealthy discipline tactics. But even as black parents hit as a means to teach right from wrong and offer protection from a hostile white society, they are also feeding their children to the nation’s foster care system, the prison pipeline, and perpetuating the cycle of self-destruction.

Overwhelming evidence has shown that sooner or later, children who are hit end up transmitting that violence on themselves, schoolmates, loved ones, and to their neighborhoods. In 1994, sociologist Murray Straus published a controversial study showing that children who routinely experience harsh physical punishment (including spanking) are at greater risk for depression as well as a host of other psychological problems and aggressive behaviors. For the past 30 years, sociologists, psychologists, pediatricians and other experts have shown that hit children are more likely to become adults who can’t control aggression. They are more likely to strike out against intimate partners and against their own children and even other members of society. They’ve also shown that hitting children negatively impacts their self-esteem and limits their academic performance. Physical punishment teaches children to solve their problems by force rather than by reasoning and instills hostility toward authority figures.

Many African Americans claim that being beaten as children kept them from getting into trouble or ending up in prison. But studies of criminals conducted by African-American Harvard psychologist Dr. Alvin Poussaint and others prove the contrary, as many of the worst criminals, rapists and murderers, were abused as children. That’s not to say that every child who is spanked will turn to a life of criminality. But certainly the argument that whipping a child will keep him or her from a prison cell is unsubstantiated.

As a former abuse victim, foster child and advocate for children, I often hear these same tired old arguments over and over again.

You can’t raise a black child the same way you raise a white child in this society. White people can’t tell blacks how to raise their children. I whup my kids to keep the police from whupping them or shooting them. The police don’t shoot white kids. White people let their kids run wild, talk back to them, and even hit them. Time out for talking. I’m not begging and pleading a child to behave. I don’t hit them when I’m angry. I talk to them first and tell them why I’m about the whip them. If I beat my kids now they will grow up to respect and love me even more. I whip my kids because I love them.

The problem extends beyond the home. In 21 states corporal punishment or “paddling” is still legal.

States with the highest percentage of reported black child abuse cases are those in the South. The top five and their rates of abuse are: the District of Columbia (65%), Mississippi (45%), Louisiana (43%), Georgia (40%), and South Carolina (38%). It is not surprising that the use of corporal punishment in public schools is also widespread in the South.

Studies show a clear correlation between the use of corporal punishment in schools and larger negative social outcomes. Compared to states that do not allow corporal punishment in schools, states where children are paddled also have the highest murder rates, prison population, low achievement scores and graduation rates in the country.

A 2009 report from the Office of Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Education revealed that although black children comprised 17 percent of the nationwide student population, 36 percent were paddled during the 2006-2007 school year. The report also found that black girls are more than twice as likely to be hit as white girls. Human Rights Watch has reported cases of children’s pants being stripped, then bent over and struck with wooden sticks. Students have sustained injuries to their genitals and other extremities. Aside from the discriminatory trend of the practice, it is a clear violation of children’s Eighth Amendment right to be free of “cruel and unusual punishment.”

How can this be happening today, especially since the 1980s all professional adults who interact with children are required by law to report any suspicion of child abuse to the authorities? In almost half of the country these same people are legally allowed to paddle children in the name of discipline. While the NAACP, our nation’s oldest civil rights organization, gave Precious six Image Awards and has taken a hard verbal stance against the discriminatory use of paddling in schools, it has yet to address the widespread use of corporal punishment as it is employed by African Americans themselves.

We are 145 years removed from the plantation and yet we cling to archaic and harmful behaviors that are being transmitted from one generation to the next. African Americans keep extending the master’s lash each time we strike a black child. And most times that I see a mother hitting, yanking, or cussing at a child in a store or on the subway, her behavior has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with her own anger and frustration, bad parenting skills, and what was done to her as a child.

Now is the time to begin a serious national dialogue about how we can break the chains of self-destruction and begin to consider healthier, non-violent childrearing practices. I propose that we start now during April when awareness and child abuse prevention is front of mind to begin the conversation.

To read more by Stacey Patton on this subject, click here.

We don’t need to hit black children to protect them from the big bad white man. Most of the violence they experience is from the hands of other black people. Before they enter schools, encounter police officers or gangs, too many are conditioned to be helpless victims or angry perpetrators of violence.

Let’s drop the rod and spare the child now.

Stacey Patton is the Senior Editor of The Defenders Online and a writer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She is also author of a memoir, That Mean Old Yesterday, which discusses child abuse.

SOURCE: The Defenders Online
A Civil Rights Blog of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund web site.


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