About this Series
Spanking children is deeply ingrained in American culture, especially among certain people groups. Among its most famously dedicated advocates are Christians, Blacks, and Southerners. Where did it all begin?
Spanking has taken on many different forms and interpretations. It changes and evolves along with the rest of humanity and culture. The acceptable spanking practices in America today can hardly be recognized compared to the spanking practices in Ancient Israel, for example, of which all Christians claim to be still practicing.
I wanted to start a general “Origins” series looking into the weird and sometimes shocking origins of commonly accepted practices we all use today. Spanking, bras, holidays, meals, bowing heads during prayer… You may surprised at what we’ll find!
The Black Community in America
This topic is super complex, so I’ll try to break it down as best I can.
Disclaimer: This is not an anti-spanking article. I’m just naturally curious is all. I like to ask questions and dig deep. I will try not to advocate for one or the other, but simply state the facts. I’m drawn to asking “why?” about everything and end up with facts that no one wants to know. You’ve been warned–these facts might not be pretty.
Usually, History seems to have ugly origins for things anyway, regardless. In case you’re worried about the implications this might have on the practice of spanking, it may interest you to know that Christmas and Birthdays have ugly origins as well. That’s a topic for another time.
For now, I’m still celebrating Christmas. The decision to spank or not spank, to celebrate Christmas or not, is ultimately between you and God.
Clarification of Terms
Before we start, there are a couple of things you should know:
- The term “spanking” means a lot of different things. The reason parents do it, how they do it and their historical origin for doing it greatly varies by region, ethnicity, country, and culture. I will pick only a few for this article.
- “Spanking” and “Corporal Punishment” are slightly different. Spanking most often refers to hitting a child on the behind, back, or legs for punishment or teaching purposes. Corporal punishment, although including spanking children, refers to the practice of hitting any human being, regardless of age, for various reasons. Adults have been actually subjected to corporal punishment for thousands of years. America is no exception. Today, corporal punishment itself is no longer practiced in many countries. It was only recently made illegal in America. That is why, when the term “corporal punishment” is used to refer to today’s practices, it most often simply refers to punishing children.
Historical Roots: Who First Taught Them How to Do It
Europeans crossing to the New World and colonizing Africa brought with them their practice of brutally abusing children (it was far from the comparatively “peaceful” sort of spanking we practice today).
Natives of Africa, before they met the Europeans, did not practice corporal punishment against children. West Africans practically worshiped their children as reincarnated ancestors or gods!
Out of the 12.5 million Africans shipped to the New World as slaves before 1865, 1/4 of that population were children (that’s over 3 million kids!).
The average age of Africans shipped to America was between 15-20. The age preference dropped as years went by. That means that these young adults and kids were too young to bring their cultural heritage along with them. They were “parented” in this country by abuse slave owners–Europeans who also abused their own kids. Traditional parenting African culture could not be passed on to the next generation.
African-Americans adopted the practice of beating children from white slave masters (Patton, 2017). Europeans brutalized their own children for thousands of years prior to crossing the Atlantic to the New World and colonizing Africa. Historians and anthropologists have found no evidence that ritualistic forms of physical discipline of children existed in precolonial West African societies prior to the Atlantic slave trade…
The fact that the majority of captives were young is significant for our understanding of the evolution of African-American childrearing practices. Bringing over mostly youth — coupled with the violent suppression of West African cultural practices — meant that traditional African child-rearing practices faded the same way African languages and religious practices ultimately did. Had the slaves who crossed the Atlantic been mostly adults from the same tribes and nationalities, spoken the same languages, shared the same blueprint for child-rearing that was practiced in the societies where they were enslaved, and been given freedom to rear their children without interference from whites, then maybe traditional African child-rearing practices could have been preserved. But none of those conditions prevailed. Consequently, to argue that “whupping” children was a tradition brought over from Africa, or that it is a culturally consistent practice today, is simply false. -APA
Corporal punishment–and specifically spanking itself–was a valuable tool used by slave owners. Again, Corporal punishment refers to EVERY attempt to physically harm another human being without killing them.
Spanking refers to hitting without causing any visible injury. Visible damage would reduce their market value. Sometimes slaves would be beaten in this way within an inch of their life.
After slaves were emancipated in 1865, yet still not free, the rules of racial etiquette and the ritualistic beatings continued as a new kind of coercive southern labor system emerged that depended on black child workers. Once again, whites co-opted black parenting to make sure it performed the same kind of function in freedom that it had during slavery. With sanctioning from the black church, black parents enacted the master’s lash to instill obedience. Their reasoning was simple: Prepare black children to deal with the chronic stresses they would face to keep them alive.
In other words: parents HAD to prepare their children for the real world. If a child did not understand the corporal punishment system and just do as their told, then when they got older their defiance could cost them their life. Better spank now than risk being killed by Whites later. This fear carried on the corporal punishment tradition introduced at slavery.
Do parents today spank in order to teach slavery-type obedience? Do they expect their adult child to be beaten or killed for acting as a free human being? Do they fear for their kids lives at the hands of cruel authority, so they “break them” early?
The use of corporal punishment in black communities today is a byproduct of centuries of slavery, the racial terrorism of the Jim Crow era, and exposure to racism that continues to chip away at the vitality of black life. Black parents have been encouraged to be part of the dehumanization process of their black children since before America’s founding. -APA
It’s Not Over Yet: Corporal Punishment Still Present Today
Although their legal freedom was won decades ago, their cultural freedom is still lacking.
Many whites, some in government authority, still look down on them and treat them with hostility. “Corporal punishment” in the form of violence against blacks (for being blacks!) is sadly still practiced today.
This violence has led to poverty, heartbreak, broken families, crime, and (ironically) more violence within the black community. The stereotype image of a “typical black” has been a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I’ll never forget the day a certain black man was asked to be the guest speaker at our church. He pleaded with us (mostly whites) to understand the reason behind “typical” black poverty and crime rates. They’re accused of doing it to themselves, but nothing could be further from the truth. They’re legally free, but actual freedom within our culture is still far beyond their grasp. They’re put at a disadvantage on purpose.
Consider Reading: Within the Soul of a Child
Even in the case of Justice, a black is far more likely to be “held accountable” for his/her actions, no matter how brutal the consequences, while whites are offered more leniency or even excused. It is a subtle, often undetected mental filter still engrained within our culture. The results, however, are no less deadly.
Justice with Favoritism is Deadly
In America today, spanking is approved by 70% of the population. Among Christians, a good 80% of approve of spanking. The black community is at 80%.
Studies show that Christians are 15% more likely to spank than non-Christians. Southerners are 17% more likely to spank than Northerners. Whites (including Hispanics) are 11% less likely to spank than African-Americans (FiveThirtyEight).
So, statistically, it is very likely that you (the reader) believe in the benefits of spanking. While you’re against child abuse, you probably draw a clear moral line between what is beneficial and what is not.
Does this sound like you? When you send your kid to school, where spanking may still be legal, you don’t worry about your kid being unfairly accused and punished, or possibly abused. When your kid comes home, you are not worried about Child Protective Services banging on your door and dragging your kid away because you spank. Spanking, after all, is legal here and everyone knows that you are not an abusive parent.
If all of that applies to you, then it is very likely that you are not African-American. Statistically, African-Americans in the black community are far more likely to be accused of child abuse or abused by their white teachers at school.
Does hell have levels of torment according to race, regardless of the deed? We do.
Since black parents are most likely to spank, these laws put them at greater risk for arrest, thus feeding the incarceration pipeline. And since most black families are headed by single parents, a parent’s arrest often sends their children into foster care, which also feeds the juvenile justice and adult prison pipeline.
What is striking to me is that white America seems very comfortable with teachers, principals, police officers, prison guards and neighbourhood watchman brutalising black bodies, but criminalises black parents for doing the same.
One would hope that we can repel and denounce all efforts to portray violence as a means to discipline and punish. -BBC News
While you (fairly, I hope) advocate for justice, approve of “safe” spanking, and hate child abuse–those same moral ideals have grave consequences when seen through the eyes of our culture’s racial filter against blacks.
Whites are not held to the same “standards of justice” that blacks are. As advocates for spanking continue to gradually drop, more and more places are cracking down on child abuse. Doors broken down, crimes reported to the authorities, accused brought to court, children transferred to foster care, etc.
Often the first people to be scrutinized and condemned are the black community, no matter what the case. Anti-spanking laws are no exception.
Black children are more likely to be assaulted, seriously injured or killed by a family member than by the police or a neighborhood watchman. Yearly statistics consistently show that black children are mistreated and killed at significantly higher rates than white and Latino children (e.g., DHHS, 2016). Ample scientific evidence demonstrates the long-term damage resulting from physical punishment (e.g., Coley, Kull & Carrano, 2014), even without marks or other serious physical injuries.
Black parents who hit their children not only risk drawing the attention of child protective services, who are overrepresented in communities of color, but also having their children placed in foster care, which is a pipeline to the juvenile justice system and similar adverse paths that disproportionately impact black youth. Indeed, black children stay in foster care longer and often don’t receive adequate therapeutic services (Fluke et al., 2011). -APA
Children need to be taught about what the real world is like, to be prepared for what lies ahead. Parents know this. They don’t want their child to end up as just another “statistic.” They want the best for their children. They’ll do anything to give their child a good successful life, perhaps one that they never had.
The practice of spanking children was brought to the African-American community from child-abusive Europeans who raised them in slavery under corporal punishment. Spanking was not previously a part of their culture, but quite the opposite.
As a discriminated race used primarily as slaves or factory workers, kids needed to be prepared to obey without question. They needed to understand the violence that would fall on them by abusive authorities if they did not obey. The slavery mindset was carried on, even beyond legal freedom, because they had no other choice. Their kid could end up a “statistic” in jail, in poverty, abused, or worse… dead.
Whites helped make sure that black parents raised good little obedient workers through the use of corporal punishment. The practice was all but forced on them by cruel Whites and a need for survival.
The Black Community also might see spanking as part of their heritage, one they’re not willing to forget just because Whites think they should. Racial tension plays into this very much. As the vast majority of anti-spanking or peaceful-spanking advocates are mostly White, Blacks often call these movements “white parenting.” Adopting these practices are often associated with leaving their cultural heritage and identity, coupled with the fear that an unspanked child will inevitably result in their being a “statistic” later.
But if whupping children kept black people out of prison or safe from abusive cops, there would be no mass incarceration or police brutality. If beatings were a prerequisite for success, black people would be ruling the world. -New York Times
Does the Bible Really Tell Me So?
Bible-believing Christian parents may stand on the well-known verses in Proverbs as a mandate from God to spank. Parents in the Black Community are especially well-known for their harsher form of corporal punishment in determination to raise godly, Christian children.
Nevertheless, their motives may be still the same as mentioned above: a desire for their kid to succeed, to not end up in jail or in poverty, to be morally pure, etc. I think this because advocating for spanking purely based on the Bible is a surprisingly flimsy foundation. It is so flimsy that there is no way this can be their only motive. If it were, they would not ignore the true meaning of scripture but search it out and find these things to be at least subject to personal interpretation instead of a hard-core mandate.
If one takes the time to look even slightly at the original Hebrew and the Jewish culture behind these verses, there is no evidence that suggests those verses in Proverbs were advocating for corporal punishment against children at all. Rather, they originally meant to teach. Even the phrase interpreted in English as “strike with the rod” is a Jewish idiom equivalent to “Drive it into his head.” To the Jew of that day, it did not mean literally striking but rather teaching over and over without fail until the lesson is learned, no matter how long it takes.
But regardless of interpretation, the entire book of Proverbs does not refer to children at all. Rather, it specifically addresses a young adult male about 18-25 years old who is starting to make his own way in life. If he were to be spanked, the spanking practiced in that day on adults was most severe and rarely done.
In any case, it was NEVER used against the innocent and immature to order to “teach.” Spanking was the most severe and shameful form of punishment, one that God strictly limited regardless of the severity of the crime. That’s why you often hear the phrase, “40 minus 1.”
For more information on the original Hebrew and Jewish practices behind the classic “spanking” verses of Proverbs, check out this very informative book: Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me.
This article also summarized these things well, if you do not have time for a very long read: Spare the Rod: The Heart of the Matter