Child advocate Stacey Patton understands clearly the indignities of child abuse and the long-lasting impact violence has on the mental and emotional development of children – particularly Black children.
But as the Morgan State University professor and historian explains, convincing African Americans that whipping children is not only harmful to their children and larger society, but also counterintuitive, has proved an uphill battle. Patton’s new book Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America, examines parallels between the treatment of enslaved Blacks and the prevalence of whippings among Black parents.
Patton garnered national, albeit mostly angry, attention after criticizing the New York Post for proclaiming Baltimore mother Toya Graham ‘Mother of the Year’ for publicly beating her son Michael during the city’s 2015 riots. Patton said the footage of Graham was reminiscent of an archival article detailing a North Carolina lynching of a child.
“This Black boy had stolen something and a mob of White men grabbed him, tied him down and called his mother. She was described as a big, heavy-set, loud woman, who marched out, pulled her sons pants down and whipped him in front of those people, and then lynched him. I put that piece on my coffee table and kept watching Toya Graham and I saw the parallels,” Patton told the AFRO. “Now, she didn’t lynch her son, but she strung him up, compromised his dignity, trust, and safety for the rest of the world to applaud.”
Patton said that following the thunderous applause many Blacks and the media gave Graham, an uptick was noted in the number of parents recording themselves shaming and beating their kids and posting the footage to social media.
Opponents of Patton’s message often comment that hitting Black children is good parenting, that it was what their parents utilized and they turned out ‘fine,’ or that children must be made to obey and toughened up inside the home or will become victims of White supremacy in the streets.
“When I was bad, my mother whipped my butt, and she whipped me good with anything she could get to quickly,” Adina Staff told the AFRO at a D.C. book talk for Patton on March 27. “I felt like it was for my own good, but years later I was dealing with an abusive man, I was hitting my own kids, and one of my sisters, who was caring for my mother, was now beating her back. We have to come to a point where we talk and listen, rather than use our hands to communicate.”
Patton details that in the past 10 years, African Americans have killed over 3,600 children as a result of physical abuse and maltreatment. The whippings are also known to erode developmental growth, causing cognitive impairment and long-term developmental difficulties. Research shows that spanking reduces gray matter – the connective tissue between brain cells and an integral part of the central nervous system that influences intelligence, speech, emotions, and memory.
“When you look at the statistics, Black children are more at risk for being seriously assaulted, injured or killed by their own parents and the biggest perpetrators and killers of these Black children are Black women – 40 and under,” Patton said. “And I want to dispel this myth that whipping kids is a Black thing. It is not. It may be prevalent in our communities, but it is not native to us. In West African cultures we did not do this to our children. In fact, they saw children as reincarnated ancestors, as gods, as spiritual beings. You would never hit a child because it would separate them from their essence or their spirit guide.”
Patton said it was Europeans who did not recognize that children were distinct from adults until the 15th century – and who for thousands of years, brutalized their own kids before ever reaching Africa.
“When Black people say that I am trying to get them to act like White people by telling them not to whip their kids, I say whipping a child is the perhaps the Whitest and most effective thing you can do to destroy a Black child,” Patton told the AFRO. “I want to change the cultural conversation. I want to speak up for these children and their bodily integrity.”