Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America is one of those necessary African-American reads, like Between the World and Me; I’m Judging You; and Coldest Winter Ever. It’s not just for dinnertime conversation or deep professional panels, it’s for everyone. Spare the Kids, written by Stacey Patton, Ph.D., professor of journalism at Morgan State University, is a searing, challenging and transcendent book that yanks us in the black community out of bed on a Sunday morning, drags us outside into the light and forces us to squint at the sun-radiating truth into the nature of one of our most sacred parenting tools: whupping.
Watch the video trailer for the book here. Caution: Images are disturbing.
No matter how you try to describe it, whuppings, beatings, spankings or switchings are perceived to be a deeply imbedded part of black culture, a practice defended by sports stars, politicians, comedians and clergy. However, Patton’s research shows that whuppings are not a “black thing” or part of some larger “black pathology.” Whuppings are a practice imposed on the black community, a practice driven and supported almost entirely by white supremacy.
Patton draws a clear path, starting from the first ships that brought Africans to America to be slaves; through the faith-based ritualized beatings and exploitation of black bodies during Jim Crow; to comedians, like D.L. Hughley, Bernie Mac and Kevin Hart, making light of beating and cursing children; to the racialized praise of the “Baltimore Mom” for publicly beating her son during protests in 2015. Black families, through a warped version of Christianity, have been sold the lie that our black children are inherently bad and out of control, and that the only way to bring them to heel, let alone protect them from white violence in the outside world, is to start the abuse at home.
The problem is, how is that working out for us? While science, sociology and faith have evolved to show the negative consequences of corporal punishment, many still cling to it. Would an extra beating have saved Trayvon Martin? Or Sandra Bland? Or Tamir Rice? How do we prepare our children to stand strong in a world that may fear and hate them when they are “instructed” by violence at home? The Root spoke to Patton about these issues and what drove her to write Spare the Kids.
The Root: What motivated you to write Spare the Kids?
Stacey Patton: My own personal experience—growing up in a house where I got whuppings by my adoptive mother. I always knew I wanted to write a book about child abuse, to ask people to be kinder, gentler, and respect the bodies of our kids. I wanted to write a book that I wish someone had given to my adoptive mother before she adopted. To see the potential risks. ... Maybe that could have helped her spare the rod.
TR: While reading the book, I was amazed to learn that “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is actually not in the Bible. And any “rod” being referenced was actually a shepherd’s staff in the original biblical translation. Shepherds’ hooked staffs were to protect, corral and comfort sheep—not beat the hell out of them when they wandered too far. What was the most shocking thing you discovered while researching and writing Spare the Kids?
SP: That an average of 360 kids are killed a year. Killed. These fatalities largely are not the result of people being sadistic; they hit too hard one time. Or hit them [kids] in the wrong place. So the data was one thing that was really shocking. Also, looking at the data on enslaved captives that were brought to this country, and finding out that the majority were children.
Patton went on to explain that the majority of slaves brought to America were actually children and teens who had not been parents in Africa, thus dispelling the myth that whupping kids is “something we brought over from Africa.” If anything, her book shows in painstaking detail how whipping, hitting and physical punishment of children was more common in Europe and imposed upon colonialized Africans and slaves in the United States as a means of controlling and breaking the wills of black families.
In a twisted extension of respectability politics, African-American families were told that a whupping at home saved children from abuse in the outside world. Further, when the routine abuse of black bodies is reinforced through generations of lynching and police violence, it’s easy for an oppressed people to normalize abuse. Is it any wonder that some black parents have taken to YouTube and WorldStar to show them whupping and verbally abusing their children in a vain attempt to dispel the myth of the “badass” black kids and the lazy black parent? Patton says that the consequences of this long-term cultural practice are damaging in ways we never anticipate.
“I interviewed men who said they had avoided intimate relationships with black women because they grew up fearing their mothers,” Patton went on to say. “That was hard for me to hear as a black woman, but I began to see the connections.”
In a chapter titled, “Don’t Be a Fast Girl,” she discusses how repeated beatings, even once a month, whether justified as “spankings” or otherwise, actually stunt growth, rewire the brains of children and can cause accelerated puberty. What’s worse, a child who gets whuppings from a parent who then says, “I do this out of love,” is much more susceptible to the notion that a man or woman who beats you as an adult can still “love” you.
Needless to say, there is a tremendous amount of pushback on the book. Patton’s Facebook page is riddled with attacks on her and her research. The most common rebuttal to her work—“Well, I got beatings and I turned out fine”—quickly descends into bizarre testimonials about how beatings that left people with welts or semiconscious kept them from stealing, having teenage sex or doing drugs. As if violence were the only way those lessons could be achieved.
TR: Given the backlash you have received from white readers who are angered that you place the beating blame on white supremacy, and African Americans who claim that you are pathologizing the black community, is there anyone you feel particular sympathy for after writing this book?
SP: I feel sorry for the mothers, especially the single mothers, facing jail time for abuse because they don’t know another way, because they don’t think what they’re doing is wrong.
I don’t have sympathy for the people who spend all this time on social media using nasty language to describe our children as problems. I have no sympathy for people who consistently make these dangerous arguments, or comedians who talk about or laugh about beating our kids, or preachers whose sanctuaries are supposed to be places of safety and love who advocate beating our children.
Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America will start a lively but necessary debate among team #SparetheRod, team #IGotBeatAndImFine and team #NoSpank. The book, while laying out the social, psychological, physical, legal and spiritual dangers of whupping black children, manages never to blame black families. In fact, the final chapter is a series of interviews and testimonials from African-American parents who stopped whipping their kids and found other, in many cases more effective, modes of discipline. Hopefully, the lessons from the past will not have to be a part of our parenting in the future.