A challenge to the cultural tradition of corporal punishment in Black homes and its connections to racial violence in America
Why do so many African Americans have such a special attachment to whupping children? Studies show that nearly 80 percent of black parents see spanking, popping, pinching, and beating as reasonable, effective ways to teach respect and to protect black children from the streets, incarceration, encounters with racism, or worse. However, the consequences of this widely accepted approach to child-rearing are far-reaching and seldom discussed. Dr. Stacey Patton’s extensive research suggests that corporal punishment is a crucial factor in explaining why black folks are subject to disproportionately higher rates of school suspensions and expulsions, criminal prosecutions, improper mental health diagnoses, child abuse cases, and foster care placements, which too often funnel abused and traumatized children into the prison system.
Weaving together race, religion, history, popular culture, science, policing, psychology, and personal testimonies, Dr. Patton connects what happens at home to what happens in the streets in a way that is thought-provoking, unforgettable, and deeply sobering. Spare the Kids is not just a book. It is part of a growing national movement to provide positive, nonviolent discipline practices to those rearing, teaching, and caring for children of color.
“The personal and generational damage Patton lays bare indicts a fearful culture of violence and implicates not only conceptions of good parenting among African Americans, but among Americans at large. This is a must-read for all concerned about the welfare of children, about America’s future, and about the U.S. Constitution’s pledge of ‘We the People’ to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
“Spare the Kids is a necessary book. Drawing from history, popular culture, and cutting edge research, Stacey Patton makes a careful and persuasive argument against the practice of hitting children. Without condescension or unnecessary moralizing, this book will challenge your most deeply held assumptions and refute your strongest arguments. More importantly, it challenges us to develop a healthier and more humane approach to raising and loving our children.”
—Marc Lamont Hill, author of Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond
“The impact on child-rearing among so many black families of Stacey Patton’s Spare the Kids may well prove as powerfully corrective as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was upon the acceptance of chattel slavery.”
—David Levering Lewis, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for biographies on W. E. B. Du Bois
“Patton brilliantly demonstrates the ways that corporal punishment is indelibly linked to white supremacy, and a continuation of the systemic logic that undergirds it. In that sense, her work is less moralizing—something we already have more than enough of—than a structural analysis of systemic injustice and how that injustice has been transmitted directly, and often brutally, onto the bodies of children.”
—Tim Wise, author of White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son
“Patton’s book is the most forceful case against corporal punishment ever made. Rooted in a deep understanding of the historical devaluation of black life, informed by the best science on trauma and violence exposure as predictors of future violence, and written in a fierce, urgent tone, if you turn these pages, you will stop beating your child. Ending the legacy of the master’s lash in our schools and rejecting the preacher’s admonition against sparing the rod in our homes may be the surest way for parents to show black children that their lives matter.”
—Khalil Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern America and professor at Harvard Kennedy School
“Spare the Kids is a heartbreaking—and important—book that addresses the nightmarish reality that Black parents devoted to bringing up their children with love and respect may engage in punishment that hurts their families and reinforces ideas of white superiority and Black inferiority. Skillfully weaving together history, the experiences of Black families, the reports of researchers and the work of child advocates, Stacey Patton is leading a call for change that will transform childrearing forever.”
—Jorja Leap, author of Project Fatherhood: A Story of Courage and Healing in One of America’s Toughest Communities
“As a writer who had my daughter in my middle thirties and my son in my forties, I had thought a lot about how I wanted to raise them. I decided before they were born that I would not spank them. Stacey Patton’s Spare the Kids confirmed my instinct that it couldn’t be a way to build the kind of loving, trusting relationship I wanted to have with my kids. Being a parent is hard, no doubt. We make decisions all day, every day, small ones and big that impact our children’s daily lives and ones that have long-range consequences. Patton’s book reminds us that by respecting black children, their thoughts, their gifts, and their humanity, we show them that we love them.”
—Benilde Little, national best-selling author of Good Hair, The Itch, and Welcome to My Breakdown
“Stacey Patton’s raw, searing and often disturbing examination peels back the layers of corporal punishment and exposes the deep and institutionalized wounds of our past, as well as the evidentiary tales of the present.”
—Kuae Kelch Mattox, National President, Mocha Moms, Inc.
A Family Conversation
“A Love Whupping”: Reflections on the Adrian Peterson and “Baltimore Mom” Controversies
Extending the Master’s Lash: The Historical Roots of Whupping Children in Black Communities
Would Jesus Whup a Child? Black Clergy on What Sparing the Rod Really Means
“You Always Were a Black Queen, Mama”: How Black Boys Who Are Whupped by Their Mothers Grow Up to Mistreat Other Black Women
“Talk to the Wood or Go to the ’Hood”: The Campaign to End Paddling in Southern Schools
“I’ll Bust You in the Head Till the White Meat Shows!”: Why Black Comedians Joke About Whuppings
“Don’t Be a Fast Girl”: How Hitting Your Daughter Can Trigger Early Puberty
The Parent-to-Prison Pipeline: How Wisconsin’s First Black District Attorney Connected Hitting Children to Criminal Justice Outcomes
Sparing the Rod: Testimonies of Black Parents Who Stopped Hitting or Never Whupped
About the Author
- The Joy Cardin Show/Wisconsin Public Radio, live interview, 4/13/2017
- ESPN/The Undefeated, Q&A, 4/11/2017
- New Orleans Times-Picayune, author visit coverage, 4/10/2017
- The Washington Post, op-ed, 4/7/2017
- NPR/Code Switch blog, featured, 4/7/2017
Download the Reader’s Guide for Spare the Kids
Questions for Discussion
- Spare the Kids includes a lot of scientific research on the long-term, negative effects of whuppings on children (i.e., early puberty, low IQ, aggressive behavior and delinquency, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, obesity, diabetes, and even cancer). How does this information influence your opinion and approach to child-rearing? Will the science ever outweigh the cultural tradition?
- The history of hitting black children links directly to American slavery and the practice of overseers beating slaves with a whip to get them to submit and obey orders. The whip evolved to the belt and later to household items like shoes, purse straps, hangers, and kitchen utensils. How does the origin story affect your outlook, if at all?
- Many people argue that there’s a difference between “spanking” and “abuse,” and they often call hitting by different names: “pop,” “whup,” “beat,” “spank,” etc. Does the language change how you view the action? Do you believe a child can make a distinction? If so, how?
- Spare the Kids centralizes the child as a victim of physical punishment inflicted by parents, guardians, and trusted caretakers. How does “centralizing the child” fit with your own ideas about the role of children in society? Are they to be seen and not heard?
- Do children have any right to their own physical bodies? If so, at what age? And if not, to whom and in what spaces do they relinquish these rights?
- If you were whupped as a child, what were your thoughts about your own experience while you read this book?
- In your estimation, is any type of physical discipline of a child ever appropriate? Is it okay to remove a child from his or her home because he or she was hit?
- Do you agree that the black church has played a significant role in promoting corporal punishment in black families? Is that role positive or negative? Is that role changing?
- The overwhelming majority of Americans in prison received whuppings as children. How does that connect to the cultural mythology that whupping kids at home keeps them out of trouble?
- Did anything you read in Spare the Kids change your opinion about the value of whupping children? If so, what changed your mind?
- Did you strongly disagree with any parts of the book? If so, which parts?
- Social media outlets have become a common place to see videos and images of children being chastised by their parents for misbehaving. Could this kind of punishment be considered a form of cyber-bullying?
- Think about the most effective discipline you received from your parent as a child and the most effective discipline you’ve administered as a parent. How do they compare? What accounts for the differences, if any?
- What tactics might be a good alternative to physical punishment?
For alternatives to physical discipline, please visit www.sparethekids.com