“Children are the future.”
We hear and repeat the phrase all the time, and it’s an ideal I hold to my core. But when it comes to the ways in which many Black children are treated in their own households, I wonder just how many people actually believe it.
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Parents of all races have their faults, but the common Black household is unique mainly because it is adversely affected by various stressors caused by the systemic oppression of Black people in this country.
Many scholars believe modern Black parenting has roots that go all the way back to slavery, especially when it comes to discipline.
There are several viral posts of Black parents publicly humiliating and shaming their children on social media. Posts range from children being made to stand on busy street corners for hours with signs displaying their bad grades to pubescent and pre-pubescent daughters being taunted on Facebook Live for lying about their ages to talk to older men. There's even a barbershop in Georgia that gives free "grandpa" haircuts to misbehaving kids.
I find this behavior appalling and ultimately counterproductive. For example, the time spent publicly humiliating a child for their bad grades could be spent helping them with their homework. And why would you shame your own daughter for being targeted by predators? There are many things, like therapy sessions and arrests being made, that should happen if a pre-teen girl is found talking to older men online — but none include public shaming.
These are only a few examples. But this nonsense has to stop because it's more than just appalling — it's traumatizing our children.
“The research is pretty clear that it's never appropriate to shame a child, or to make a child feel degraded or diminished," professor of social work at the University of Michigan Andy Grogan-Kaylor said. “Such punishments can lead to all kinds of problems in the future.”
Those "problems" refer to things like anxiety, depression and aggression. Publicly shaming a child is bullying, point-blank. It is crushing to their self-esteem. It teaches them that their mistakes define them and ultimately that they should not trust you.
Black parents need to stop humiliating their kids and start being proactive about alleged misbehavior before it even starts. Humiliation is counterproductive because instead of focusing on your child's growth, you are shining a spotlight on their mistakes for the world to see.
It's not just about psychological humiliation, though. Spanking or whupping children as a form of corporal punishment is somewhat of a cultural element of the Black household.
Though my parents never spanked me, I knew many children who were spanked by their parents. Once when I was in fifth grade, a classmate's mom was allowed to come into my classroom, pull down her Black son's pants and beat him raw with a belt for everyone to see, all because he'd been goofing off during class. This happened right here in Baton Rouge.
When you say spanking is wrong, many Black people are quick to say that they turned out "just fine” despite being spanked as children — but author Stacey Patton says they’re wrong. In her book “Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America," she wrote that people who think they turned out "just fine" are often actually survivors of “unrecognized trauma.”
Videos of "misbehaving" children often go viral. Recently, it was a video on Twitter of a little girl who cut her hair. Some Black commenters remarked that they would’ve beaten her if she'd been their own child.
These are people who create random scenarios in their heads to justify beating their own non-existent children but claim they "turned out fine."
In a country where Black people are literally being beaten down by systemic racism, why do Black parents treat their kids with similar tactics? It's simple: parenthood is about control. Many Black people may feel out of control when it comes to their treatment in society, so they retaliate by exercising harmful control over their kids.
It is devastating that so many Black parents don’t see that they are treating their children in the same way racist white people treat us. Black parents need to stop physically harming their children and start unpacking their own trauma.
According to Stacey Patton’s research, African-Americans adopted the practice of beating their children from Europeans who had already been doing so for thousands of years. There is no evidence of physical punishment being commonly used a form of discipline in West Africa prior to the slave trade. In America, slaves were under pressure to make sure their children behaved in front of white people, so they turned to spanking as a way to keep them in line.
“When you belong to a group of people who are in constant fear of their lives and those of their children, then it is understandable how that trauma can cause parents to interpret cruelty as love, protection and responsible parenting even when proven counterintuitive,” said Patton.
Racial trauma lives in the Black subconscious. Many parents don’t even realize it coming out when they use corporal punishment to discipline their children.
In June, the University faced harsh criticism on social media over its response to an incoming freshman’s viral video using racial slurs.
We shout “protect Black women” and “protect Black men,” but what about protecting Black children? When it comes to supportive parenting and effective discipline, I know that many Black parents can do better.
This is not something that will change overnight, but according to a study from the University of Minnesota, Millennials and Gen X'ers are indeed less likely to spank their children.
Our generation can end this. Our generation can be the one to approach parenting in a different way. To love our Black babies rather than hurt them. But it is going to take us acknowledging that spanking, public humiliation and corporal punishment is wrong, even if you "turned out fine."
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Black children are already growing up in a society that tells them that they are worth less because of the color of their skin; they should at least be able to feel safe at home. Black children matter too.
Olivia James is a 20-year-old mass communication junior from Baton Rouge.