A study sponsored by the University of Texas at Austin in 2011 examined 20,000 kindergartners and their parents, and found that 89% of black parents, almost 9 out of 10 spanked their children; Compared to only 80% of Hispanic, 79% of White and 73% of Asian parents who spanked their children. The use of corporal punishment in rearing children decreases as level of education and household income rises,` but curiously it increases in how often a family attends church services each week.
I have read many heartbreaking narratives of enslaved African mothers who helplessly watched as a Mistress of the house scalded her child with boiling water or mercilessly beat her child to unconsciousness right in front of her over the slightest misstep, completely powerless to intervene to protect her child. When Harriet Tubman was just five years old she was put in charge with watching a Mistresses child while it slept. When the baby woke and cried, Tubman was whipped. She was lashed five times and carried the scars on her body for the rest of her life.
Having experienced this first hand, why are we more likely, not less, to use corporal punishment to rear our own children?
Black culture cannot be understood independent from the experience of slavery in America. Our culture is one that was formed over 8 unbroken generations of men and women living under a institution where the value of our lives was measured only by our usefulness and by our productivity as a laborer, not by its humanity.
I believe Black Americans as a group use physical coercion with our children out of fear that if WE don’t instill obedience in our children someone else (Master) will, and our experience has shown us that if he gets involved the consequences will be even more severe. This made the ability of a parent to get their child to obey, or to mind, as we like to say, the difference between life and death on a Plantation in the Antebellum South.
We have to be cognizant that we weren’t born in a test tube. We came from somewhere. We had a culture. Where we came from we raised children. If you look at the Ibo, Ewe, Biafada, Bakongo, Wolof, Bambara, Ibibio, Serer and Arada peoples, the ethnic groups that the overwhelming majority of African Americans descend from, NONE are so committed to the use of corporal punishment in rearing their children as we are. One must then conclude that this is something we’ve learned. This is not something that we brought here with us.
If we as a community continue to insist that we can’t be expected to raise “our” children “correctly” without corporal punishment is it any wonder why other groups view us the same way, that we can’t be expected to “mind” without the constant threat, real or otherwise, of physical coercion? Just think, where did we learn this from?
We need to take emotion out of this. Has there ever been an actual study done showing a measurable correlation at all between striking a child with a switch, a belt, a shoe, a hand or whatever and that child staying out of trouble with the law? I don’t know. But I can tell you what has been shown, in study after study, and that is that children who are spanked, regardless of race, ethnicity, or whatever else, face higher rates of anxiety, depression and show more aggression towards others and have relationships that are more distant with the parent who was administering the punishment.
Maybe anxiety, depression and whatnot was a small price to pay to keep below Master’s radar, maybe the conditions of slavery were so horrific in-an-of-itself that anxiety and depression went virtually unnoticed considering the circumstances. But that still doesn’t spare us the responsibility of asking ourselves the question, is this something we need today to survive or is this just something we do because we think we have always done it, which isn’t the case.