The author and activist discusses her book Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America.
Author and Activist Stacey Patton PhD
Tavis Smiley: Good evening from Los Angeles. I’m Tavis Smiley.
Were you spanked as a child? If you answered yes, then you might not be surprised to hear that more than 70% of Americans think spanking is acceptable. Tonight, a conversation with child advocate, Stacey Patton, who challenges the tradition of corporal punishment in her new book, “Spare the Kids”.
Then, Golden Globe and Emmy winning actress, Felicity Huffman, joins us to discuss her starring role in ABC’s critically acclaimed drama, “American Crime”.
We’re glad you’ve joined us. Stacey Patton and Felicity Huffman in just a moment.
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Tavis: Today more than 70% of Americans think that spanking is acceptable. That number is much higher, as you might suspect, among African American parents who see the practice as a reasonable and effective form of discipline.
Child advocate, Stacey Patton, is the author of a new book about Black America’s relationship with corporal punishment and says it is time to recognize that spanking is abuse and that it harms kids and leads to long-term problems. The text is called “Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America”. Dr. Patton, good to have you on the program.
Dr. Stacey Patton: Thanks for having me.
Tavis: To those who are watching right now who are saying whupping has already saved Black America’s children, you’d say what?
Patton: I’d say look at all the sociological measures, health, wealth, mass incarceration, the violence in many of our cities like Chicago and Baltimore and you’ll find your answer to that assumption that beating kids, whupping, spanking, treating their bodies with violence, has saved us from many of these structural realities.
Tavis: What’s the scientific link between that litany that you just ran and whupping?
Patton: Well, we have about 50 years worth of science that shows that spanking, no matter what you call, spank, pop, whup, it’s all violence. It all involves hitting and pain. So we’ve got 50 years worth of science that has shown that hitting children causes structural damage to their brains.
It sparks biochemical responses that can put a child at risk for a lowered IQ, depression, alcohol abuse, delinquency and even chronic health problems like diabetes, heart issues, cancer and even a lowered life span.
Tavis: There are, I suspect, a bunch of folk watching now, others who will see this online, who will say, again, I didn’t appreciate my mother and father spanking me when I was a child, but I am not in that statistical category that you mentioned. I went to school, I got an education, I’m a law-abiding citizen, I have a good job, I’ve raised a family, I’m not in that category of persons that you listed a moment ago.
Patton: Those are people who are victim s of unrecognized trauma. They are successful in spite of having had somebody assault their bodies as children. And what it suggests is that all those people who are in prison, who may have met an early death, that what could have saved them is if someone had hit them more as a child, I hear lots of people say, “I was hit and I turned out fine.”
To me, that is a sign of brain damage because, once again, when you harm the architecture of the brain while it’s developing, it harms memory.
So a lot of these people can’t accurately recall the fear, the betrayal and the pain that they felt because somebody was presenting violence to them in the context of love. So they’ve grown up to hold on to the adult justifications for why they were assaulted and now they’ve inverted violence as something that was good.
Tavis: So anyone who was spanked as a child, no matter how successful, no matter how well-adjusted they might be, no matter how happy they might be, we’re all in denial?
Patton: If you grow up to think that violence against you is responsible for your success, there’s something deeply wrong with that.
Tavis: But what if you don’t see it as violence against you? What if you see it as discipline?
Patton: Well, discipline means to teach. When you hit a child, what you do is you teach them that aggression is the way to communicate, to get somebody to do what you want them to do, and that it’s appropriate.
Tavis: How did Black people in particular — I read that stat a moment ago at the top of the conversation. How did Black people, pardon the phrase, fall in love with corporal punishment?
Patton: Well, a lot of people think that hitting a child or whuppings or whatever semantics we want to engage in, is a Black thing, and it’s absolutely not. Actually, hitting a child is perhaps the whitest and most effective thing you can do to destroy a Black child.
It’s not something that was native to our culture. You have to go all the way back 2,000 years of European history to see the ways in which Europeans were destroying their own kids by hitting them, raping them. I mean, they were absolutely sadistic with their own kids. They didn’t even recognize that children were children until the 16th century.
Meanwhile, our West African ancestors saw our children as gods, as reincarnated ancestors. You would never, ever put your hands on a kid because it diminished you or would drive away your child’s spirit guides.
But it’s a process of colonialism, the middle passage experience, hundreds of years in slavery and the genocidal violence during Jim Crow that altered the way we saw our own kids and how we treat them.
Tavis: So the persons who were spanked as a child who don’t see it as violence may be in denial and the parents who did the spanking, what? This is the white supremacist in them?
Patton: That’s one way to look at it [chuckles]. I wouldn’t go that deep. I would just say that a lot of parents do what was done to them. A lot of people have been stopped to say, “Well, how did we get here? How do we become a people that thinks that this type of child-rearing practice is going to lead to better people or lead to better communities?” They don’t know this history and a lot of folks don’t know the science either.
Tavis: What are the options? What are the better options? The best practices?
Patton: Well, the first step, I think, is that the parents need to look at themselves. Think abut their own childhood, be honest about how they really felt as children on the receiving end of a bigger person being violent with them. We need to interrogate what our pastors are teaching us from behind the pulpit. We need to be…
Tavis: Don’t spare the rod?
Patton: They say to spare the rod, spoil the child, which isn’t even in the bible, mind you. So we need to interrogate everything we’ve been taught about this. That’s the first step, do to some self-reflection as a people. And then there’s all types of stuff out there. Positive parenting, painless parenting, positive discipline.
There’s tons of stuff out there on Google for free. There are ways that you handle everyday issues like keeping a child from touching a hot stove so they don’t get burned. They can go on my website, sparethekids.com, to learn some alternatives as well.
Tavis: To those persons who are watching right now and say — again, back to our earlier conversation, that whupping may be on the list, but it’s far down the list of those things that have caused Black children to be in harm’s way. There’s racism, there’s lack of funding for schools, dilapidated schools, neighborhoods that are crime-infested.
You mentioned Chicago, a place where cops run away. I’m not trying to demonize cops in Chicago, but the data was clear that oftentimes there are cops who hear a call and they won’t go to a certain neighborhood because they know what to expect when they get there.
I mean, you get my point. I could go on and on and on. Disparity in healthcare, we could do this all day long of a litany of other things way before you get to whupping on the list that have caused Black children to be in harm’s way.
Patton: So what you’re talking about are structural issues. They’re generational. We can go all the way back to the plantation.
Patton: These are all the more reasons why we should not hit our kids because there are so many traps. For example, our communities are under hyper surveillance from law enforcement, from child protective services.
So since we know there are all of these traps out there, then why assist in that process? Why facilitate the flow of our children’s bodies through that system? A lot of people don’t realize that 19 states allow corporal punishment in public schools.
So you have large numbers of African Americans who sign opt-in forms to have their children be paddled with wooden boards by teachers or administrators for acting out, talking back. You know, normal things that teenagers do. Generally, that is the first step in the school to prison pipeline. So we set our children up for these types of traps when we hit them.
And a lot of these kids before they enter school, before they join a gang, before they get in any kind of trouble, when they’re two or three years old, we’re hitting them. We’re setting the foundation and sowing the seeds for the types of aggressive behaviors that we’re seeing going on in the streets.
Tavis: For those who say it’s not the whupping, but it is on top of the list I offered a moment ago, it is a lack of two parents in the household. It’s the lack of discipline, however else you define it, from having that nuclear family that once was the story line in Black America.
Patton: Mm-hmm. Yes, certainly I hear that. Again, the breaking up of Black families is also due to structural forces as well. There are plenty of single parents– I write about them in my book — who’ve raised kids successfully without ever having put a hand on them. So being poor, being a single parent, living in a poor environment is not an excuse for meting out violence onto children’s bodies.
Tavis: No, it’s not an excuse at all. I didn’t mean to suggest it was. I guess what I’m trying to figure out is where the line is between those structural constraints, those structural impediments and corporal punishment.
Patton: So I would make a broad argument that white supremacy is about destroying Black humanity at every turn and all of those things that you talked about there.
Tavis: No argument there, yeah.
Patton: But the greatest most diabolical trick of it all is to seize and destroy Black children, but to get their parents and other loved ones to participate in that dehumanization process. So we can’t really separate the structural from how we treat Black children. What was foundational to the success of white supremacy has always been the destruction of Black childhoods.
Tavis: To those who listen right now as parents who were just offended by your last comment and say to you, “Dr. Patton, I didn’t whup my child to dehumanize my child. I whupped my child because I loved my child and because I wanted my child’s humanity to be respected as their life went on, not be dehumanized by these structural challenges and by the racism that they would face. Again, it was borne of love, not an attempt to dehumanize my own child.”
Patton: And, once again, that’s also part of the trick, to get them to participate in a dehumanization process and call it love and protection. This goes all the way back to the plantation when there was a kind of elusive Black parenting that was created out of that experience.
Many slave masters and overseers left the beating of Black children, enslaved children, to the parents for a number of different reasons. So what it gave enslaved parents was a sense of power to say, “It’s better for me to do this than for Master or the overseer to do this.”
Tavis: Or law enforcement.
Patton: Or law enforcement. We hear the generational echoes. So it gave them a sense of this is the one thing I have control over in my life.
So when you’re a people who lack, you know, real significant political and economic power in your life, when there are all of these structural issues, what happens is you end up reaching out to the most vulnerable among you and, you know, taking out all of that frustration and pain onto people who can’t fight back rather than striking back against the system and those big forces that you named instead.
Tavis: The book is called “Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America” written by Dr. Stacey Patton. Good to have you on the program. Thanks for your research, and thanks for the conversation.
Patton: Thanks so much.
Tavis: Up next, actress Felicity Huffman. Stay with us.