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Why Black Mothers Beat their Children as a Cultural Norm

Paige Smith

I’m a mother of a one year old whirlwind of joy and love. As his mom it’s my responsibility to show him this through modeling, teaching, and discipline. Yet as a Black mother the expectation is that I will, rather that I must, beat my child…He’s curious, energetic, outgoing, and fearless. He wants to explore the world, meet everyone in the room, and get on the stage to dance around who ever is speaking or performing. Like any one year old he’s quickly learning boundaries and right from wrong.  What is the best way to discipline him and help him discover these boundaries?

Disclaimer: This article is not to say that spanking your child is never an option in any situation or that sparing the rod is advisory in our opinion.  It is to challenge a system that has been in place since slavery creating unbalanced cultural norms in our own viewpoints of ourselves and how we raise our children in the black community.  Have our viewpoints regarding our own abilities to use corporal punishment without self-control shaped our thinking towards ourselves in comparison to white children?

The “why” behind spanking is what I hope to explore in this article. The roots behind the corporal discipline so embedded in the Black community is one I and I’m sure so many other women want to uncover.

Many would say the answer is glaring after simply turning on the news as headline after headline reveals another senseless young Black death.

We are in a time when innocent Black bodies are beaten mercilessly on the streets, when entire majority Black communities are tear gassed and spitefully called animals by law enforcement, when a social media movement has to be birthed to remind a nation that the existence of the Black race matters.

In light of a society that seems to be ever more threatening to Black lives everywhere, the response of most parents is two fold, both on opposite extremes. One response is to shield their children from everything, raising them in “safe” pristine suburban neighborhoods, screening their music, friends, and even attire from anything too Urban.

Yet another response is one a majority of Black parents take which is to remove the possibility of future police harassment through current corporal punishment. Many Black parents fear the very real likelihood their children will experience some type of profiling or negative treatment because they are black. They respond to this fear through “beating” their children straight, before society can.

I was spanked and so many others of my Black friends and peers were. It was a mark of our childhood that may not have been pleasant but one many of us look back on with gratitude or even fondness. Many of us will boldly stand for corporal punishment and insist because of that physical discipline in our childhood we became better adults.  And to some degree this is true.

Yet as I researched corporal punishment I began to see an unsettling divide between black parents who believed in spanking their children and every other race. In the Black Christian community it was even higher.

Scripture like “Spare the rod and spoil the child” has constantly been referenced in the Black church yet could it be that in a fear of “spoiling” our Black children we have taken up the rod too often?

My point is not to stigmatize Black parents for beating their children, the Bible does instruct us to physically discipline our children. I simply wanted us all, including myself, to ask ourselves if we have overemphasized corporal punishment as a Black community, and to search out the reasons if we have.

Why do black parents feel a stronger need to physically discipline their children more than parents of other races?

NFL star Ray Lewis opened up in an emotional interview how he went to bed many nights with bruises, but continues to say if his mother wasn’t as hard as she was on him the “streets would have gotten [him] the way it got many others.”

It seems Lewis believed he needed more violence to deal with him, to prevent him from becoming another statistic.

A real question is whether his white counterparts at the NFL felt the same growing up. Did they also feel the need to go to bed almost every night with bruises in order to become upstanding men?

Lewis believes his beatings were his saving grace from a life on the streets, leading him on the path to success and stardom, but other Blacks are opening up about how scarring their childhood punishments were.

Stacey Patton, Black BBC writer and author on a book on the intersection of race and corporal punishment profoundly reflects on her childhood:
“As a young child, my adoptive mother stripped me naked and whipped me with switches, belts, hangers, shoes, and extension cords.

She left physical and emotional scars and called her parenting techniques “spankings” or “good butt whoopings.”

Her reasons? Because the Bible said it was right, she loved me, she wanted to protect me from the mean streets, drugs, early pregnancy, and white people who she said wanted to beat me up, lock me in a jail or leave me for dead in the streets…

I ran away at age 12 and bounced around in foster care before landing a scholarship to boarding school.”
While for Ray Lewis he believes spanking made him the man he is today, many like Stacey Patton became who they were despite the beatings.

“Spanking” or beating has become a standard of Black parenting unquestioned for decades but with abuse cases like the Adrian Peterson controversies and heart wrenching stories like Patton’s coming to the surface the harmfulness or effectiveness of uncontrolled spanking has to be challenged.

Asadah Kirkland, author of Beating Black Kids calls spanking a “cultural epidemic” that she believes needs to stop. It has been proven to lead to low self esteem, depression, and even some cases suicide. She urges parents instead of physically disciplining their children to talk to them, get into their world, and show respect to them to also have it given back.

The debate on spanking is one that is sensitive touching cultural, religious, historic and racial areas that can be uncomfortable. Yet for the sake of our children and our future it is a conversation that we need to bring back to the table.

We need to talk about what it means that Black children are beaten by their parents more so than any other of their counterparts of other races.

Are Black children more unruly? More rebellious? More “hardheaded”? This is a notion that is hurtful, dangerous and is rooted deep in the marshes of slavery.

We have to remember Children, no matter what race, are a blessing given by God Himself for us as parents to steward with love and wisdom.

I encourage you to reflect on why you may be spanking your children, is it too often, is it in a controlled environment or done out of a belief that black children need this more than other races to make it; I also encourage you to explore other alternatives in addition to corporal punishment.

Remember, it’s the heart of the matter that really counts. If you’re a parent ask yourself, Why spanking? Do I need to beat my child to show them something is wrong in every incident or am I simply perpetuating what I’ve experienced?

The word of God tells us to physically discipline, but discipline is meant to correct wrong behavior, not traumatize or abuse. Our children are precious gifts, let’s all handle them with the care and reverence we all deserve.

“Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.” (Psalm 127:3)

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