Corporal punishment and the Black family

William T. Robinson, Jr.

William T. Robinson, Jr.

We, as a society, are experiencing a greater increase of young children openly defiant and manifesting abusive and harmful behaviors toward their peers as well as adults. Some are quick to attribute these hostile and belligerent occurrences as just a sign of the times. We are finding many parents of criminally plagued children, especially boys of color, openly blaming a bureaucratic judicial system of intentionally denying them the right to discipline their children.

Many Black parents feel their children (especially young males) are eventually being put in a position to become products of the industrialized prison complex, driven by profit and greed. There are many factors to blame for the rising criminal, disrespectful and unsavory behavior of young children. It is contentious that some local and state agencies can sometimes cause more problems than help in contributing to criminal behavior or activity among our youth—although their intentions may be honorable.

This concern is only made more valid when children openly tell their caretakers that they will call and report them to the Police Department or Dept. of Human Services if they are unhappy with the way they are being disciplined. The caretakers are subjectively investigated and threatened with removal of the children from the home. In some cases, it is a form of blackmail by manipulative children to get out of being reprimanded or punished for wrongdoing—undermining the authority of the adult. Eventually many parents threatened with reactionary repercussions from local and state agencies start looking the other way or give up on disciplining their children, feeling their hands are tied. Our communities become havens for undisciplined, out of control children wreaking havoc.

Now I’ll be the first to acknowledge that some young parents lack parenting skills and may be a threat to the physical and mental safety of a child, warranting concern and interaction by outside forces. Often this includes a parent or parents who may have been obsessively abused and scarred by their own parents and are in need of parenting skills training to navigate them in raising and disciplining their children. And it must be said that all adults with children are not meant to be parents. Having a responding agency to report truly abusive parents can rescue extremely neglected and abused children and save lives.

I would argue that most parents who may engage in corporal or physical punishment do not intend to cause bodily harm to their child but simply to deter negative behavior. In a perfect world you might think that you could talk to your child or even use ‘time out,’ but children do not fit into one mold. Most parents are doing what they feel is right. They have been taught what they feel are effective methods to discourage negative behaviors in children.
We are being influenced from a Eurocentric perspective that corporal punishment is unacceptable. It is the opinion of many Whites that ‘time out’ or any alternative method of behavioral modification void of corporal punishment is acceptable. But it has been my experience that ‘trial and error’ is a common practice utilized by many parents to determine what works for their child to deter unacceptable behaviors.

Culturally and traditionally, African Americans have utilized physical punishment as an effective method in discouraging unwanted and detrimental behaviors in their children. Contrary to what many have been fed by the media, the harshness of the physical punishment some describe at the hands of Black parents was to try to keep their children from being victimized, incarcerated or killed by an oppressive, discrimatory, and diabolical Eurocentric controlled system.

Raising and disciplining a child to become a productive, responsible and caring individual is a hard and demanding job usually with a multitude of critics to address. You will be surprise at those who claim to be authorities or experts on raising children, especially many of those who don’t have children of their own. Some methods or practices may prove to be more effective than others, but none can claim to be fail proof. Say what one must, but corporal punishment administered by the old Black regime has delivered more positive and productive results from their grown children than regrets. Some Black adults are quick to say they are better adults because of it and it didn’t hurt or kill them.

Realistically, one is forced to wonder if we are systematically contributing to the rising problem of criminal behavior among our youth by initiating and enforcing policies and practices that prevent or penalize a parent from trying to offer or instill effective discipline in their children’s lives. The art of raising and disciplining our young has been going on since the beginning of civilization and, for the most part, is greatly influenced and guided by one’s own upbringing.

Many ethnic and racial groups adhere to their own customs, practices, and traditions in raising and disciplining their children. We must be cognizant of the fact that people are not going to always agree on another’s views on raising and disciplining a child. We must be open to accepting that one size doesn’t fit all. In the end, you as a parent are held responsible for your child and you must do what you feel is best in providing an effective form of discipline with the child’s well being and best interests considered.

Many studies and reports conclude that corporal punishment is ineffective and only teaches the victim to be a prospective initiator in future acts of physical aggression. Just as many people argue that if done properly and with love, moderate corporal punishment administered to young children can be quite effective. We must also be aware that consistent excessive brutal application of acts of corporal punishment can have unwanted and devastating effects.

You find a growing number of professionals or so called highly educated Blacks who are opting to refrain from applying corporal punishment in disciplining their children. Many older Black parents say this is a contributing factor to a rising number of disrespectful, disorderly and criminally orientated Black youth.

It is a common saying in the African American community that “You can discipline your child now or the judicial system will likely mistreat, incarcerate or kill them when they become a young adult.” We may want to revisit or change laws and policies that deny, punish, or that negate us from being effective parents and care providers in raising our children to protect them from a sometimes unforgiving world.