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Passing on Historical Trauma Through Whupping Black Children

A Q&A with Stacey Patton by Sylvia Snowden

Passing Down Historial Trauma Through Whupping Black ChildrenThis interview appeared originally in Ebony.

We’ve all seen it. The two-year old who has fallen out, kicking and screaming in the middle of a store, or the mouthy, defiant teenager who’s rolling her eyes and her neck at everything. It’s easy to look at kids like that and think, “That kid needs is a good, butt whupping!”

According to a 2015 Pew Research survey, Black parents are more than twice as likely as White parents and nearly twice as likely as Hispanic parents to use corporal punishment to discipline their children on a regular basis.  Black parents are also far less likely than White or Hispanic parents to never spank their children. And that’s the sort of parenting pathology that Dr. Stacey Patton hopes to combat.

Patton, who holds a Ph.D. in African-American History, and is the author of a new book, Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black Americaurges Black parents to look at the history and the impact of the practice and reconsider. EBONY.com sat down with Dr. Patton for an in-depth look at her findings.

EBONY: Why do you think we hit our children?

Dr. Stacey Patton: People think that hitting a child is a form of teaching. We think it will protect them. And people grow up to invert the violence they experience as children as something that was good, particularly in African-American culture. As a people, we attribute our success to having had our bodies processed through violence and quite frankly what it does is confirm a long-standing racist narrative about Black bodies. The only way to control us, the only way to make us “good,” law-abiding, moral people is with a good whupping. It seems that we unconsciously agree with that narrative.

Spare the KidsEBONY: You said in your book that Black people are “the most locked up, unhealthy, stressed out, demonized group of people in America. Whupping children hasn’t saved us from any of this!” So why do you think we believe it has?

Dr. Stacey Patton: We don’t make the connection between the historical traumas, the science that talks about the psychological damage that hitting children has, the chronic illnesses that get produced by hitting children, the domestic violence between Black men and women or the shootings in the streets. We don’t take a moment to stop and look and say, “How much of that is attributed to what’s happened to us in the foundational moment of our lives (which is childhood)?” We don’t make those connections.

EBONY: You also explore the Black church in your book. You say the church has always urged parents to use “the rod of correction,” but then you point out that the phrase, “Spare the rod, spoil the child” isn’t actually in the Bible, and Jesus was a gentle person who liked children. Would Jesus spank? Where did we get that from?

Dr. Stacey Patton: Firstly, I should say that I’m not a Christian, though I was raised in the Black church. In the New Testament there’s no evidence whatsoever, that Jesus hit children. Based on Jesus’ principals of empathy, love, and his directives to adults on how to treat children, I don’t think he would have whupped a child. The whole, “Spare the rod, spoil the child” misinterpretation is Old Testament. I pushed this conversation a little further to say, “Listen, first of all, African-Americans have only been Christians for about 200 years.” And we came to Christianity through our brutal, horrible and dark mistreatment during slavery. There’s absolutely no evidence that Black people in West Africa treated their children with this kind of ritualistic violence prior to contact with European missionaries. We need to interrogate this theology.

EBONY: Talk about the specific damage we do to our male and female children when we hit them.

Dr. Stacey Patton: I interviewed Black men to learn if there was any connection between mothers beating their sons as boys and how they grew up to treat women later in life. I found that many of their stories confirmed what the psychological literature had been saying for decades. These men grow up to have some really ugly attitudes towards women.


Read more at Ebony.


About the Author 

Stacey PattonDr. Stacey Patton is an award-winning journalist, author, and child advocate. Her writing on issues surrounding higher education, child welfare, and race has appeared in the Washington Post, Al Jazeera, the BBC News, and the Root. She is also the author of That Mean Old Yesterday and the creator of the anti-corporal punishment organization Spare the Kids.