How Should Black People Discipline Their Children?

Race and Politics

by: Sean Yoes Senior AFRO Contributor
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Most Black people of a certain age (I’m thinking 40 and over) can tell vivid stories about the most severe beating (or beatings) they received as children at the hands of parents or other family members, in the name of “discipline.” The stories are often wrapped in the nostalgia of the, “good ol’ days,” when you got caught doing wrong and a neighbor had the duty (or right) to beat (correct) you, then you would get it again when your parents (or parent) got home. Oh, how we long for the good ol’ days!

But, too often those stories of childhood whuppings are deep, painful memories, suppressed and never uttered.

Sean Yoes (Courtesy Photo)
Sean Yoes (Courtesy Photo)

Dr. Stacey Patton, an assistant professor of multimedia journalism at Morgan State University and author of the book, “Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America,” wrote an essay adapted from the book, which appeared in the New York Times this past weekend.

“It’s something that I’ve thought about ever since I had moved into my adoptive parents’ home when I was five years old,” she told the AFRO on March 13. “From the very first time she (adoptive mother) ever…popped me in the mouth, my entire world felt like it came crushing down because this was an adult who was supposed to love me and keep me safe and I was supposed to trust her,” Patton added. “And so, as I got older the whippings escalated and eventually funneled me into the foster care system and while I was in the foster care system, I saw so many young people, particularly Black children who had been intellectually, physically, spiritually, psychologically destroyed by that kind of aggressive child rearing practice.”

Beyond her own destructive experiences being physically disciplined as a child, Patton illustrates what many believe is the undeniable link between, “aggressive child rearing practice,” a “bastardized” Christian tradition and the ubiquitous American systems of Black oppression, slavery and Jim Crow.

“It is a European idea that children are ‘born in sin’ and should have the devil beaten out of them with a ‘rod of correction.’ That brutality cascaded across other cultures through slavery, colonialism and religious indoctrination,” Patton wrote in the New York Times. “It should not be surprising, then, that Black American slaves, who endured trauma of their own beatings, inherited their oppressors’ violence and, for centuries, passed down these parenting beliefs. This is one of the saddest untold stories in American history — the way in which the victims of racist oppression and violence have hurt the bodies of their own children in an effort to protect them from a hostile society,” Patton declared.

She says the reaction to her observations have always been varied and sometimes volatile, from incredulous Whites saying, “How dare you blame White people for Black child abuse,” to the more nuanced argument of, “there’s a difference between spanking a child and beating a child,” Patton said and there has also been affirmation for her findings. “There’s been quite a number of people on both sides of the color line, writing to say thank you, to share their own personal experiences of having gotten corporal punishment as a child, so the piece was validating to them,” she revealed.

Patton also refutes that somehow corporal punishment of Black children has somehow saved Black lives from death and destruction.

“Between 2006 and 2015, more than 3,600 Black children were killed as a result of maltreatment, according to the Administration for Children and Families. That’s an average of 360 children a year, three times higher than for other racial and ethnic groups,” Patton wrote in the New York Times.

“The truth is that White supremacy has done a masterful job of getting Black people to continue its trauma work and call it ‘love,’” Patton wrote.

“Black children are also more at risk of being assaulted, seriously injured or killed by a parent than by a police officer, a neighborhood watchman or an irritated racist who hates rap music. We have to stop hurting our children to protect them. It is not working. And worse, it erodes our children’s humanity and co-signs the slave master’s logic that you have to hit a Black body to make it comply.”

Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of, AFRO First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday, 5-7 p.m. on WEAA 88.9.

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