Teachers and parents that use corporal punishment are no different than slave masters

The University of Alabama’s formal apology for its historical ties to slavery is a fine gesture, and we congratulate the university for its good intentions. However, this gesture fails to recognize and address the fact that one of the principal techniques of the slave masters continues to be practiced, and for that reason it is incorrect to assume that slavery is entirely a thing of the past.

We refer here to the practice of beating children.

The University of Alabama should act now to promote a ban against the use of slavery-derived whippings and paddlings in the so-called “discipline” of children by their teachers and principals. Educators, after all, are not trained to hit. Violence has no legitimate place in education, and educators should never compromise their professionalism by cooperating with hitters.

Abolition of corporal punishment would accomplish far more for the descendents of slaves by protecting them in the here-and-now (African American schoolchildren receive a disproportionately high percentage of all school paddlings) than by offering apologies for the violence committed against their ancestors.

It would bring Alabama’s public education system into the modern world, promote educational excellence and elevate teacher behavior to a standard worthy of emulation by parents and all other caregivers. True disassociation from slavery must include a forthright, unequivocal disavowal of slavery’s most pernicious legacy: child beating.



The switch is a longstanding African-American institution, both feared and revered.  Everyone in the black community either has heard of or experienced firsthand the grandma who ordered the child to go fetch the tree branch, the switch that would be used in his or her own beating.  They said it was necessary to keep children on the straight and narrow, out of trouble and respectful of their elders.

But what if the explanation for the switch is far more troubling?  Sometimes, people act based on what they know.  And in the case of the black community and the black family, we cannot disregard our very real connection to slavery times and the internalizing and perpetuation of our trauma.


We all cringe with horror, perhaps even cry, when we view depictions of brutality in films such as 12 Years a Slave.  It feels far too familiar, too close to home.  If we recoil at the sight of slaves being beaten, then why would we subject our own children to the same treatment?

The purpose of whippings, floggings and other forms of abuse under slavery was clear — to subjugate and control black people with arbitrary cruelty, beat them down not just physically but also spiritually and psychically, and reinforce the master’s control over them.



In some cases, enslaved black parents — who really had no rights over their own children, and perhaps had to care for the master’s children at the expense of their own — beat their children to please their owner, or to ward off more severe punishment from the master.

So how can this in any way benefit our children today?

Many parents physically discipline their children, and black folks are no exception.  And corporal punishment is not illegal in most states unless it causes severe harm.  But just because something is legal does not mean it is right.  And if you wonder how far you can go and steer clear of child protective services before crossing the line into criminal child abuse, then you have missed the point.

Study after study has shown that harsh physical punishment can have detrimental effects on children, including changes to the brain — literally ”less grey matter” — slow cognitive development, and increasing odds of depression and addiction, low educational achievement, aggression and criminal behavior.  Spanking during childhood also increases the chances of that child hitting other children and their parents and hitting a spouse or dating partner as an adult.

Moreover, spanking does not work better than any other form of correction; any short-term changes in misbehavior can come at a very high cost.

Let’s not forget verbal abuse, telling children — perhaps peppered with four-letter words — they are forever worthless and useless, and unloved.  This form of abuse is just as harmful to a child’s psyche as a beating is to his or her body and physical and emotional well-being.

Some parents use their kids as a punching bag out of frustration, reflecting the stresses and economic strain of daily life.  And I believe physical force is easier than mind power for many, because they cannot communicate effectively with their children.  I prefer talking to my son, using reason, incentives and other forms of non-physical correction with him.  I am not saying parenthood does not pose its challenges, and kids are smarter than we ever were.  But I want my son to respect me, not fear me.

Further, the idea is not to make Adrian Peterson a whipping boy or a poster child for child abuse.  He is by no means alone, and we know there are multitudes more parents just like him.  In any case, Peterson must come to terms with the horrible things he allegedly did to his son, as the justice system must deal with him, and surely the NFL will.

Peterson was indefinitely suspended by the Vikings for child endangerment

Peterson was indefinitely suspended by the Vikings for child endangerment

But in the end, if a criminal prosecution, league sanctions and maybe even an ousted commissioner are the only takeaways from this high profile case of child abuse, then there is a missed opportunity for society, and for black America, to deal with a serious problem.  We must break the cycle of trauma that passes from generation to generation like the DNA and heal both the victim and the victimizer.

We must challenge societal norms concerning definitions of manhood, and black manhood, and the notion that one must use physical violence against others as a means of controlling them.  This includes bastions of testosterone, including the military and law enforcement, where child and spousal abuse are rampant, and professional sports, where the data on domestic violence is nonexistent and arrests are lower than the national average, but most arrests are for domestic violence.

In the meantime, it is time to give the switch a final resting place.  Let’s not go there anymore.

The NFL football star Adrian Peterson’s child abuse scandal has sparked a national debate in America about spanking children and the growing illegality of certain kinds of “abusive” corporal punishments. In a personal piece, author Stacey Patton describes the complex legacy of corporal punishment in black America.

Room For Debate

 Peer Pressure and Spanking Among Black Parents

Rashawn Ray is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park and a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Research Scholar at the University of California in Berkeley and San Francisco.

Some people have memories of going out in the yard to get a spanking switch, while others never even got a tap on the hand and instead had “time outs” or “talks.” While these punishing methods differ by region and class, they also fall along racial lines. Blacks are more likely to spank their children. Although some argue that spanking leads to physical aggression or passive-aggressiveness, the evidence is inconclusive.

Nonetheless, the racial gap has closed in recent decades as fewer blacks use spanking as a primary form of punishment. Considering that roughly 55 percent of blacks live in the South and corporal punishment in schools is allowed in Southern states, they may not be “under pressure” from mainstream society and social institutions to stop spanking. Instead, generation and social class may have led to more changes among blacks.

Seventh-grader Jayden Witter, foreground, discusses a recent conflict with another student solved through restorative justice, which included teachers and students gathering in circles for discussions, at Ed White Middle School, Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in San Antonio. School districts in New York, Los Angeles and Denver are just some of those that have moved away from discipline policies that relied heavily on suspensions. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Black parents may be supported by family and friends because they believe spanking instills respect for their children’s interactions with authority figures.

Previous generations of blacks spanked first and asked questions later. Current blacks seem to spank as a last resort. This shift mirrors the increase among the black middle class. Sociological research shows that middle- and working-class parents have different parenting styles. More education leads to more forms of communication to solve behavioral problems.


As implied above, there are regional differences with whites in the South more likely to spank than whites in the Northeast. Still, blacks and whites may face different pressures regarding spanking. Black parents may be supported by family and friends because they believe spanking instills respect for their children’s interactions with authority figures. White parents, on the other hand, may be ostracized by family and friends for spanking.

While some believe spanking should be prohibited, others view it as a viable solution if other methods are ineffective. Altogether, spanking without communication is problematic and should not be used as the primary form of punishment.

Spanking Is More a Product of Stress Than Race

George W. Holden is a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He conducts research on parent disciplinary practices and is the author of “Parenting: A Dynamic Perspective.” He recently served as chairman of the Global Summit on Ending Corporal Punishment and Promoting Positive Discipline, in Dallas.

Psychological and sociological studies on child-rearing disparities between black and white parents don’t provide clear answers: Although many studies find that black parents do spank more often, other research finds no differences between races.


Parents most adamantly committed to spanking tend to be from the South; they have less education and less wealth, and they experience more stress.

More revealing are the studies that take into account other critical factors, like the parents’ upbringing, stress levels, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status and region of the country. These have shown that parents most adamantly committed to the practice of spanking tend to be from the South. They have less education and less wealth, and they experience more stress. They are likely to take literally the Proverbs’ call for a “rod of correction,” and they typically were spanked by their own parents.

Parents who spank — black or white — do so because they inaccurately believe that corporal punishment results in improved child behavior. The pressure to spank can be loud and forceful, amplified by frustrating child behavior and unexamined child-rearing assumptions, along with misguided advice from extended family members, neighbors, teachers and preachers.


Yet research on the consequences of spanking children of every race could not be more clear. Beyond its immediate impact on behavior, spanking increases children’s long-term aggression toward peers and others. Parents who spank are, in fact, modeling violent behavior, which young children in my own studies have described as unfair and ineffective. Spanking also is linked to a host of harmful effects on children’s well-being: increased anxiety and depression, impaired cognitive development and academic performance, lower self-esteem and, sometimes, bruises and broken bones.

Read: Spanking can cause mental health problems in children, study suggests

 Spanking Is Part of Black Culture

LaShaun Williams is a culture and parenting columnist for Madame Noire and editor of PoliticallyUnapologetic.com. Earlier this year, she squared off with Toya Sharee in a discussion of spanking on madamenoire.com. She is on Twitter.

Corporal punishment has long been an acceptable, common form of discipline among African-Americans. Indeed, spanking is as much a part of popular black culture as fried chicken and Kool-Aid. Perhaps, that is why the propensity has been difficult to subjugate? Or is it because, despite social studies, we still believe it works?


Until racism ceases and the Bible is rewritten, black parents will continue to spank their children.

Yes, research shows that black children are more likely to be spanked than their non black peers. But statistics show that black males still lag in academic achievement and dominate prison populations, and black females lead in abortion numbers and have almost three-fourths of their children out of wedlock. Does that mean corporal punishment isn’t working? Not necessarily. But it could be the reason black parents, eager to ensure their child does not become a “statistic,” are raising obedient children in an orderly household that respects authority.

Let’s be clear, there are different types and reasons for corporal punishment. The spankings that black children reared in stable, two-parent homes receive are generally different from those that the frustrated, overworked, underpaid single mother of two delivers.


Perceptions of spanking among the black community are minimally affected by the research. In fact, black parents are more likely to question mainstream methods of parenting that they would argue spoil the child. Many blacks have no tolerance for the prevalence of “talking back,” public tantrums and authoritativeness displayed by non black children and believe that the absence of spanking induces such behavior. Even black parents who opt to use the rod only sparingly sometimes find themselves on the receiving end of confused expressions and assumptions of “white parenting.”

It’s not uncommon to hear parents of black children being raised in affluent white communities reiterate their blackness in justifying spanking their kids as a cultural reminder of who they are. And trust me, the majority of those black affluent kids will do just fine, going on to populate universities and colleges and become doctors, successful entrepreneurs and corporate professionals.

Black children face a different world than their white counterparts, and, for that reason, black parents are not compelled to assimilate their style of discipline. Until racism ceases and the Bible is rewritten, black parents will continue to spank their children.

Stacey Patton says her childhood punishments left physical and emotional scars

Stacey Patton says her childhood punishments left physical and emotional scars

As a young child, my adoptive mother stripped me naked and whipped me with switches, belts, hangers, shoes, and extension cords.

She left physical and emotional scars and called her parenting techniques “spankings” or “good butt whoopings.”

Her reasons? Because the Bible said it was right, she loved me, she wanted to protect me from the mean streets, drugs, early pregnancy, and white people who she said wanted to beat me up, lock me in a jail or leave me for dead in the streets.

I heard this message everywhere – at family gatherings, in black churches, hair salons and barbershops, on radio stations, and in the performances of countless black comedians.

I ran away at age 12 and bounced around in foster care before landing a scholarship to boarding school.

Driven to understand why my adoptive mother and most black people believed so strongly in physical discipline, I earned a PhD in African American history and wrote a memoir about the historical roots of corporal punishment in black families and the intersections of race and parenting in modern times.

black parenting

The Peterson controversy spotlights the struggle between the black community’s deeply rooted attachment to spanking and laws that criminalize a disproportionate number of black parents for that behavior. Corporal punishment is deeply embedded in Christianity and Western culture, and in African-American culture it is related to slavery and Jim Crow segregation. Slavery and post-emancipation racial terrorism may be part of our story, but it is not the whole story.

Too often discussions on race and harsh parenting techniques are essentialised as pathologically black or black poor, even though the practice is more variegated by class and religion.

America is a nation where 90% of all parents across racial and ethnic groups use corporal punishment at some point, but there’s a prickly cultural divide between blacks and whites on what is deemed appropriate.

Many blacks are defending Peterson with arguments that “a good whooping” is love and not abuse, and that it keeps children in line and hopefully safe from the wrath of the police or the prison system.

Studies show that black parents are more likely to use corporal punishment than any other group. Why?

Historically the black body has been subject to racial control, through centuries of slavery, lynching, sexual violence, reproductive legislation, surveillance, segregation, mass incarceration, police practices, and popular entertainment.

Black parents have responded to this systemic violence by debasing their children through harsh physical punishment. But few parents view spanking through this lens. It has simply been considered by most to be a core feature of black identity, quality parenting and responsible citizenship.

Underlying black parents’ attachment to spanking is a very real fear, based on black suffering and random violence at the hands of white people.

Blacks are quick to defend the need to spank and feel misunderstood when criticized in a society where the consequences for stepping out of line are much harsher for black children than white ones.


When former professional basketball player Charles Barkley said that “I’m from the South. Whipping – we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances,” he accurately represented the historical black perspective on parenting throughout the US.

Stacey Patton is the author of a book on the historical roots of corporal punishment in black culture

In fact, whipping children has long been a badge of cultural superiority and morality in black communities.

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.

The Peterson controversy exemplifies how this tradition of harsh discipline is clashing with growing anti-child-abuse laws that punish parents.

Though corporal punishment is still legal in public schools in 19 American states, sentiment is shifting in favour of non-physical methods of discipline. This sentiment is informed by 50 years of scientific research on the negative impactthat hitting has on children’s developing bodies and brains.

One question is whether these anti-spanking laws and white people’s righteous indignation over harsh black parenting expose an agenda beyond a genuine effort to protect children.

Maris Poll

Since black parents are most likely to spank, these laws put them at greater risk for arrest, thus feeding the incarceration pipeline. And since most black families are headed by single parents, a parent’s arrest often sends their children into foster care, which also feeds the juvenile justice and adult prison pipeline.


Read: Why is America celebrating the beating of a black child?


What is striking to me is that white America seems very comfortable with teachers, principals, police officers, prison guards and neighbourhood watchman brutalising black bodies, but criminalises black parents for doing the same. One would hope that we can repel and denounce all efforts to portray violence as a means to discipline and punish.

The controversy and cultural clashes around the Peterson case are signs of a society in the process of reconsidering long-accepted traditions and practice. Whatever happens to Adrian Peterson, this issue is a sleeping giant that has awakened and can no longer be ignored.

Blacks Are Breaking From the Tradition of Spanking

Toya Sharee is a community health educator, writer and regular contributor to Madame Noire. Earlier this year, she squared off with LaShaun Williams in a discussion of spanking on madamenoire.com.


In working with inner-city African-American teenage parents, discipline is often a popular topic of discussion — one filled with creativity. I have heard of many different strategies from “time-outs” to holding books while standing in a corner to encourage the child to contemplate the error of her ways.

Race aside, we all tend to raise our children the way we were brought up.

Many of these young adults confess that the type of discipline they use directly mirrors their own upbringing, but they are eager to explore alternative methods to which they have never been exposed. When it comes to healthy discipline the challenge they find themselves facing today is not distinguishing healthy discipline from punishment, but rather what type of discipline is effective.

The younger first-time parents of this generation find themselves at the forefront of breaking their children’s disobedient behavior while also breaking cycles of abuse that are not only questioned by social institutions, but questioned internally by themselves. Many of the pressures that these parents face in terms of discipline are imposed, not by public opinion or other races, but by their very own culture.

Father helping son (7-9) with homework --- Image by © Tim Pannell/Corbis

Father helping son (7-9) with homework — Image by © Tim Pannell/Corbis

Race aside, we all tend to raise our children the way we were brought up often without proof that those same parenting styles will be successful in our own children’s upbringing. We fail to question if the type of discipline we practice is more for our own convenience or to truly help our children see the error in their behavior.

Black parents today are beginning to recognize more and more that every tantrum can’t be controlled with a time-out or a spanking, and that discipline should be tailored to specific situations for each individual child. They are seeking nontraditional resources and recognizing that there is a diverse world of discipline beyond their personal experiences, making them better able to break free from traditional practices that they assume are native to their culture.


Sources : Effects Of Spanking Kids: Detrimental to Mental Health

Is Spanking a Black and White Issue?

Slavery and spanking of Children

Spanking can cause mental health problems in children, study suggests

Understanding black America and the spanking debate

Beating our black children furthers the legacy of slavery