Every so often on social media, conversations arise comparing Black parenting styles to white ones, and I’ve noticed an unsettling pattern. It seems what Black people tend to associate with Black parenting styles is negative or downright abusive characteristics: disregarding their children’s boundaries, corporal punishment, and humiliation. Conversely, Black people often associate white parenting styles with kind forms of nurturing: effectively listening to their children, being understanding, offering empathy, and respecting their children’s boundaries.
However, as accurately stated in an article for BBC, “Many black parents identify the refusal to spank as “white,” viewing white parents as too permissive and not in proper control of their children, especially in public spaces.” Notably, a few years back, it was even a common occurrence to see Black parents publicly humiliating their children as a form of discipline for all of social media to see.
In fact, statistics prove Black parents do tend to be considerably harsher with punishing their children, and there is some historical context to be explored as to why. Black parenting methods are a reflection of the harm and abuse we experienced during slavery. In turn, Black parents often discipline their kids in similar ways plantation owners abused enslaved people.
The use of corporal punishment on children is not reflective of pre-colonial West African practices; rather, it is a demonstration of religious European beliefs that people are born innately sinful. So, parents felt they had to beat the sin out of children.
Now, however, Black parents strongly believe beating children into behavioral correction can save them from the dangers Black kids are likely to face outside of their homes. Even though, the idea that you can beat a human being into submission or into performing good behavior directly correlates with the institutional practices of slavery.
Correspondingly, America’s refusal to directly address the harm slavery has had on the Black community causes Black people to continue internalizing trauma without any healthy outlet to properly heal. This cycle of unchecked trauma, which is now arguably an inherent aspect of Blackness stemming from slavery, ultimately comes at the expense of Black children.
The idea that spanking can effectively correct children’s behavior is not supported by facts or statistical evidence. Consequently, the practice of spanking in the Black community is continued for two reasons: firstly, I suspect the use of corporal punishment on Black kids provides Black parents a feeling of superiority or control they don’t have outside of their household.
Secondly, Black parents are trying and failing to save or prepare their kids from the repercussions of living in a racist society. This notion is seemingly well-intentioned. However, it normalizes abuse as a form of love, furthering the cycle of trauma in a manner more subdue.
Racism partly thrives off convincing Black parents to forcefully get Black kids to conform to white supremacy. This is supported in a newsletter article for the American Psychological Association (APA). Dr. Stacey Patton examines how racial trauma has influenced Black parent’s use of corporal punishment. The article explains how the American slave trade purposefully targeted African youth.
As a result, kids that grew up in enslavement became adults and “were under tremendous pressure to shape their [own] children into docile field workers and to teach them proper deference and demeanor in front of whites,” Patton states. So are born familiar phrases like “this hurts me more than it hurts you:” a phrase commonly used by Black parents to justify their perpetuation (whether intentional or not) of abuse.
Dr. Patton also wrote a compelling article for the New York Times detailing her own experience with the negative effects of corporal punishment. Because of the abuse she endured, Dr. Patton ran away at 12-years-old, ending up in foster care. As an adult, she came to realize the direct harm beatings had on her as a child and had to spend part of her adulthood unpacking her trauma in therapy.
Henceforth, the current generation of Black youth must break cyclical family trauma for the sake of our own kids and our kid’s kids. With modern studies coupled with the ability to have nuanced, cultural conversations on social media, we can now understand that spankings and humiliation tactics have been historically harmful to Black children.
Black trauma is cyclical. Therefore, going forward, the way we as a community can remedy those toxic perceptions of Black parenting is by recognizing the trauma of our past and present, regarding both our lineage and personal childhood experience.
We must be the generation of parents that recognize beating Black kids into good behavior benefits no one. It’s on us to change the narrative surrounding Black parenting to be something universally positive and leave this cycle of trauma in the past. To ensure future generations of Black kids can have a healthy and nurturing development as all children deserve.
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