"I will beat the black off you!"
"Stop crying before I give you something to cry about!"
"I brought you into this world, and I'll take you out!"
These are all phrases many black children have heard while being physically reprimanded by their parents. I, like many, remember being spanked and whooped as a child, thinking it was the natural order of things in the black community. But all of the spankings, screaming and, in most cases, unnecessary force used against black children's bodies by their parents have become triggering to me.
I'll never forget receiving a public whooping from my grandmother when I was 10 years old, because she thought I’d ran away. However, I had received permission from her to go with my friend to the park. She had forgotten she granted me permission to go. The whooping she inflicted upon my adolescent body seemed to have lasted forever. In the street, she whooped me until her anger was satisfied. No matter how much I screamed, she hit me over and over as if I was a public spectacle. While this was not a cyclical occurrence for me, other children are not as lucky. The Pew Research center has found that black parents, compared to white and Hispanic parents, are almost two times as likely to spank/corporal punish their children.
Black parents whoop their children for a variety of reasons. Some feel it is a way to protect their children against the dangers of the world, others feel it will make their children more respectful and some do it to make their children more disciplined as people. While all of these reasons are noble, it may not be effective.
It is understood that many black people do not wish to engage in conversations surrounding this conversation, however, discoursing this subject truthfully has the potential to lead positive outcomes for black children. I'm not trying to tell black parents how to parent. However, as a product of this system, I am asking black parents and the black community to understand the effects of this practice on black children.
It is necessary to realize that whooping black children does not stop them from being killed by police, experiencing racism and does not make them closer to whiteness in any way. Black children continuously being subjected to corporal punishment can become a very pervasive and cyclical cycle.
This kind of ongoing punishment can lead a child to suffer from toxic stress. It was not until recently that I came to understand toxic stress as a concept and realized I, like many, are products of it. Dr. Pat Levitt, professor of Neurogenetics at Harvard University, defines toxic stress as “a term used by psychologists and developmental neurobiologists to describe the kinds of experiences, particularly in childhood, that can affect brain architecture and brain chemistry. They typically are experiences that are bad for an individual during development such as severe abuse.” Toxic stress can alter the brain’s architecture in a child and lead to many adverse hindering outcomes.
In the book, Spare the Kids, author, professor and child advocate Dr. Stacey Patton explains, “Studies by researchers at a number of universities have shown that corporal punishment and chronic stress can have a negative impact on children’s development. As a child grows, certain parts of the brain are particularly vulnerable to stress. Constant hollering, belittling, threatening and hitting sets off biochemical responses that can change the architecture of a child’s brain and lay the groundwork for a low IQ, a quick temper, aggressiveness, hypervigilance, delinquency, depression, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, future domestic violence, an inability to regulate impulses, dysfunctional relationships and early intrusive sexual thoughts and activities. This abundance of research has not changed public opinion or practice.” Corporal punishment against black children has the potential to leave scars that are not just physical on the black body.
The toxic stress effects corporal punishment can leave on black children need to be understood way better by black parents and the black community — especially since, the Administration of Children and Families found in its most recent study of child fatalities in America, that in 2015, black parents committed 368 child fatalities.
Black parents should never be the boogeyman antagonists to their children. Black parents should be tools to make their children productive, powerful, prolific beings. They should never be the harbingers of stress, gatekeepers of pain and engineers of degradation for their children. To this day, it pains me to see black parents threaten, belittle and hit their children online, in public and in their homes. Breaking this toxic cycle will be hard and take time, but it is not impossible.
Here are three things I urge African American parents to do.
1. Understand and research toxic stress. Here are some resources:
2. Read Dr. Patton’s book Spare the Kids.
3. Speak with your children and discover how corporal punishment makes them feel.