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Author: spatton

Dear Mother Wit: My Daughter Has Picked Up Some Bad Habits From Her White Friends

My 12-year-old daughter is a great student and generally well behaved. I have to address some normal adolescent moments from time to time, but nothing unusual. We live in a wonderful suburb, where we moved for the excellent school system. But I’m worried that my daughter is starting to act too White.

Our community isn’t very diverse, though we feel welcome. And my daughter has some very good friends—two White girls her age—that she’s grown up with. They’re nice girls and I’ve worked hard to build friendly relationships with their parents. I wish we could live in more diverse community, but this is where the best schools and other family-friendly services are located.

My husband and I are both African-American professionals, college-educated, and very culturally aware. We have wonderful Black art throughout our home, we belong to an African-American church across town, we play all kinds of Black music. And we’ve gone out of our way to make sure that our daughter has had diverse books, dolls and other toys throughout her life.

I’ve sometimes wondered if she’s missing out by not having close Black girlfriends, or learning traditions like clapping games and double-dutch. But I’ve pushed those concerns to the back of my mind. What’s bothering me lately is that she’s exhibiting behaviors that aren’t appropriate in our home. We’ve spoken calmly with her from time to time, even jokingly, about how the rules that her friends live by don’t always apply to her or to us. We discuss racism in open, honest and age-appropriate ways, and she pays attention.

But lately she’s been whining when she doesn’t get her way, and talking back to her father and myself in ways that are just plain rude. She slams doors and talks at me in a tone of voice that would have gotten me slapped in the mouth by my mother. She seems to be adopting that sense of entitlement that her friends wear as part of their White identity. Even her voice changes: if you close your eyes, you’d swear you were hearing a young White girl. She’s been rejecting anything we say that suggests Black history, culture or pride lately—even putting up her hand and claiming that she “is tired of all that racial stuff.” We talk about what’s happening in the news around the country, but she just ignores us or tries to put her headphones on—even at the dinner table! When we scold her, she whines, “Well, Jillian’s parents let her do it! Why are you so unfair?”

I don’t want to be paranoid or petty, and I don’t want to get physical with her the way my mother did me, but I want to nip this problem in the bud. The world we live in isn’t going to cut her any slack for growing up in a fancy suburb. All that matters is her Blackness, not her zip code. I don’t want to make her feel limited—we’ve always told her she can be anything that she chooses, and succeed at whatever she puts her mind to. It was great being able to point to the Obamas when they were in office. But the current administration is making it clear that White is right, and I’m desperate to get my babygirl straightened out before she runs into trouble and learns the truth in some horrible way.

Dear Frustrated Suburban Mama:

Guess what? I’ve heard versions of this same story from so many parents like you. You are not alone! As Black people have been able to “move on up” and live in nice neighborhoods with wonderful schools, we’ve faced the challenge of how to balance our kids’ sense of Black identity with the whiteness of their neighborhoods, schools and social circles.

First, remember that your daughter is 12. She’s an adolescent, almost a teenager, and the one thing they are guaranteed to do is test you and work your last nerve on the regular. In your case, it sounds like she’s trying to figure out her identity in relation to her parents, her friends and her environment. She might be able to better relate to some things that we consider “White” simply because that’s what she has always lived with.

Second, while the way she’s acting and speaking to you might feel like disrespect, she probably doesn’t mean it that way. That doesn’t mean that you don’t speak to her about it, though. Just try to keep the racial part out of the discussion for a while. Explain that her tone of voice, whining, etc. is not acceptable. Encourage and praise her when she acts and talks in ways that are more normal for your household.

One thing you can discuss (when everyone is relaxed and calm) is that the world is full of different cultures (again, try to leave the Black-White aspect out of it for now). And you can give examples of how Jillian and her other friends interact with their parents, explaining that things are different in your home and that when she is there, she needs to get with the program. Don’t come down too hard on her and try not to sweat the small stuff. She might really be struggling to keep up with her friendships, and soon she’ll be wondering where she fits into the dating scene at her school. So she’s facing her own sources of racial and cultural stress on top of the normal pre-teen identity struggles.

You sound like you’re doing all the right things by demonstrating a commitment to your culture in your home, church and activities. Keep presenting those opportunities, but in a laid-back way that doesn’t make her feel you’re forcing her. I know—that can be so challenging, but it’s also part of bringing up teens, who pull away from us in a natural attempt to figure out who they are beyond their relationships with their parents and other authority figures.

Don’t ridicule or criticize her when you see her acting White. Accentuate the positive and focus on the things she’s doing right—good grades, not getting in trouble, etc. And while it might seem impossible, you also have to accept the fact that all of us are impacted by our environment in one way or another. So while you’re seeing her behavior in terms of Black and White, she’s just trying to adapt, fit in, be accepted and figure out how to move through a very different world than the one in which you grew up.

Interestingly, it’s young people who grow up in mostly White environments who often want to attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Include that in the options you present when that time comes, but keep it low-key and chill.

And cut yourself some slack. Your daughter sounds like a “normal” suburban adolescent, and I’m sure you and your husband are doing a fine job of raising her. We can’t control the choices our children make when they grow up; we can only love them, nurture them, and encourage them to find their own way.

With love,

Mother Wit

Dear Mother Wit: “I’m A White Dude. Can I Call Out An Abusive Black Parent In Public?”

Dear Mother Wit:

Is there any role for White parents (such as myself) who see an example of prolonged emotional abuse by a Black parent of their child in public?

Today, for example, I saw a Black mom screaming at her two-year-old daughter for half an hour to sit down and shut up. As the child was screaming and crying, her mom kept forcing her out of a hug and down into a seat. The mom said, “You can’t have candy! What did I say?? Why are you making a scene?? Goddamnit, what’s wrong with you?” The girl didn’t want candy anymore; she just wanted to be held and for her mom to stop yelling.

First and foremost, I’m a White dude, and I understand any angry confrontation would be completely counterproductive (and every Black person on the bus would rightly consider me a racist asshole). It just hurts, and I want to know if there’s any reasonable intervention, or if it’s strictly a matter for folks like me of supporting folks like yourself and waiting for institutional change.



Dear Jim:

First, thank you. Thank you for caring and for speaking up and for asking from a place of respect and humility. That doesn’t happen often enough, so I want to appreciate you for your concern and your question.

It can be the hardest, most heart-breaking thing to witness a scene like the one that you’ve described. When I see that, first I have to calm down my own “mother bear” instincts to correct the parent and comfort the child. That usually takes several deep, deep breaths.

That helps me to realize that I’m not looking at an adult and a child. I’m really looking at two children. The older one, the mother, is a big child who was never loved or nurtured in a way that makes it possible for her to be empathetic, loving, and nurturing to her son or daughter. I recognize that they are both frustrated. Maybe deep down, the mother wants to do better, but she has no idea how to start because she doesn’t even know what it feels like to receive that kind of tenderness, so how would she know how to give it?

It’s still heartbreaking, but seeing it in that way sometimes helps me to calm down. Still, there’s the natural desire to “fix” the situation, especially for the very young child who is simply trying to get her needs met.

I don’t have an easy solution for you, Jim, because you’re right: the fact that you’re White—and a man—makes it hard for us to see anything else. The way that society works, we’re so surrounded by the fact that White and male equals power and often oppression, that sometimes it can be challenging to view you simply as another concerned human being. And when we as Black people are corrected or criticized by a White person—especially in the area of parenting—we’re not likely to be receptive or responsive at all.

But don’t let this make you feel hopeless. Even if it’s uncomfortable, I hope you stay alert and aware and I hope you keep caring and wondering what you can do. Because it’s possible that maybe one day you CAN do something to make a difference. Maybe there will be a situation where you’ll find it appropriate to acknowledge the fact that you’re White and a man, but that you’re also a parent and you know that’s the most frustrating job in the world. And maybe you can share how you know that sometimes parents just need somebody to understand what they’re going through, or that they don’t have all the answers, or that sometimes their children need more than they can give them right then. You might be able to share a story about how your child/ren drove you to the brink and you weren’t sure what to do, and that it helped just to have another parent say, “Hey, I get it. I’ve been there. I’ll be there again. And I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone.”

Once I was in a fancy department store, in the gift section with my 5-year-old son and my 3-year-old daughter (who refused to stay in the stroller). I was holding my daughter’s hand and my son pulled away and knocked an expensive glass decoration onto the floor. I was already tired, hungry and frustrated. And I started to grab him to get us away from all of the beautiful, delicate, expensive stuff that looked so scary to me because all I could think of was that he’d break something I couldn’t afford to pay for. And suddenly, this woman appeared right in front of me. She was an older woman. She was White, with silver hair, looking like somebody’s grandmother.

She looked me in the eye and spoke in a soft, soothing voice. She said, “It’s hard, isn’t it?” I nodded, wanting to cry. She nodded and said, “I understand. He’s a good boy. You’re a good mother. It’s going to turn out fine.”

And just like that, she was gone. I swear, Jim, I thought she was an angel because I hadn’t seen or heard her approach me and I didn’t see her leave. But she saved me from my own fear and frustration. She slowed me down just enough to take a breath, and her reassurance was everything for me.

Because those are the moments, Jim, where a little bit of human sunshine can break through the clouds and we can acknowledge our differences while connecting on our common ground. Where we just reach out to help someone because we understand and we just want them to know that we care. Without judging or criticizing or trying to fix it (and that can be the hardest thing). Without scolding or correcting or acting like we know something they don’t (even when that’s the truth). Just reaching out for a quick minute to say, “Hey. We’re different in a lot of ways, but some parts of parenting are the same for all of us. And I just wanted to tell you that you’re not alone and it’s going to be okay.”

I have a feeling you’re going to be that kind of “angel” for somebody—maybe even for more than one somebody—Jim. So please, keep watching and caring and waiting for that moment when you can break through the barriers and help somebody make it through a tough, tense moment of parenting. You’ll be making the world a better place when you do.

With love,

Mother Wit

Dear Mother Wit: “It Makes Me Feel Sick To My Stomach When I Spank My Niece”

Dear Mother Wit,

My sister got pregnant at a very young age by a man much older. She decided to keep the baby but as soon as she gave birth, as you can imagine, she became disinterested in parenthood. Four years later, my sister ends up pregnant with a second child, still living with my mother, no income, and not trying to do anything for herself or her children. My niece was getting ready to start pre-k but we all knew that my sister didn’t want to be a parent and just needed a reason(s) for us to continue taking care of her by continuing to have children.

My 6-year-old niece came to live with me and everything was smooth for about a month. She throws these AWFUL fits that I just can’t handle. When she was living with my mother she lived in a house full of people and discipline only existed when she made someone angry enough to spank her. She got whatever she want and did whatever she wanted. I haven’t been able to break that mentality and punishments do NOT work. She is  throwing a mega fit as I’m typing this because she has to go to bed early (because of another fit that she threw this morning). I’ve taken things away, tried time-out, talked, spanked, meditation corners, EVERYTHING and nothing works. She would also do this when she lived back home but anytime she would throw a fit they would just give in. She does it at least once of week at the slightest “no”. She back talks her teacher at school and constantly provokes me.

I’ve hit her out of anger but it makes me sick to my stomach every time. I never thought I would be the type of parent to spank.  I can’t take it anymore and I don’t know what else to do. Please help!



Dear Cameron,

I can feel and understand your frustration. Experts say that “every behavior meets a need.” Even dysfunctional behaviors. You know that your niece’s “need” is to get her own way, and her experience is that acting out will help her achieve that goal. You have a challenging job ahead, which is to find a way to change her “programming” and move into more productive behaviors.

Even if you don’t have a lot of money, are there resources for family therapy for the two of you? I think it might help (at least help you) to talk with an objective professional who can offer insights into your niece’s behavior, and help you brainstorm some solutions.

I’m wondering why your niece’s default seems to be rage at such a young age. Has acting out been the most effective way for her to get attention in the past? With kids, it’s easy to be casual when they’re acing right, and invest much more of our time and energy when they’re acting out.

Also: are you noticing patterns or triggers that set her off? If you can, try to pay attention to that. The hard part might be to remain calm yourself, and to (temporarily) forget about trying to be “in control” of your niece. It might seem counterintuitive, but take a step back. Which battles is she picking—and why?

Sometimes as parent figures, we have to examine our own wiring and unconscious responses. You listed many approaches to discipline and punishment…what would happen if you changed the game? If you hugged her and asked her what was bothering her, while speaking in a soft, calm voice and letting her know that you love her unconditionally, but that her behavior choices aren’t working in her favor. It never hurts to try something different—especially when it’s something that the child doesn’t expect from you.

Take a break from fussing at her and focus on praising what she’s doing right, even if it’s something really basic like getting dressed on time for school or eating a meal or doing a chore. Keeping her off balance by changing your behavior in positive ways can help to restore the balance of power to you. You want her responding to your energy rather than the dynamic you have now, where she is controlling everyone with her fits.

What would happen if you ignored her next fit—if you acted like nothing was happening? How would that make you feel? Could you pull that off?

Please also consider medical issues—sometimes allergies or eating too much sugar can contribute to misbehaviors in children. Have you had a doctor check her out and make nutritional recommendations?

Children will always try to engage adults in power struggle—that’s how they grow. And adults need lots of support and different ways to move out of power struggle and into maintaining the energy of being in charge—but not necessarily in a forceful way.

Finally, nothing is more frustrating than rearing children, and your niece sounds more frustrating than most. You need constructive, healthy ways to deal with your own frustration before interacting with hers. Deep breathing, a glass of tea, listening to soothing or uplifting movement, taking a minute to stretch and give thanks for what’s working in your life, even if it feels like everything is falling apart—those are some of the things I taught myself to do when my kids worked my last nerves.

Please check back in and let me know if any of these things work, and what you learn about her behavior, okay? I’m in your corner and cheering you on!

With love,

Mother Wit

Will Physical Punishment Stop Black Kids From Killing Their Parents?

“These kids today lack discipline and they’re killing the parents!”

This is one of the popular myths I hear all the time from Black folks on social media when discussions about physical punishment come up. Far too many of us have been raised to believe anything that supports beating Black children no matter how far-fetched and illogical it is. When I hear this argument that if you don’t beat your kids they will kill you, I always scream, “SHOW ME THE DATA!”

We live in a racist country that pathologizes every aspect of Black life, and that racism is smog that we breathe in constantly. In our conversations, Black folks apply some of those same pathologies to our children. Arguments in favor of physical punishment are generally rooted not only in the fundamental belief that whuppings will serve as a protective measure from white racism, but also that our children are inherently deviant and potentially criminal. And so Black children must be contained or controlled or civilized through violence.

Because I’m sick of this kids-killing-parents argument, I decided to do a little research. Here are the facts.

There is no surge of “these kids today” killing their parents. According to data from the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System, and every study that has ever been done on parricide, the killing of parents and stepparents by children is a very rare occurrence. Killings of parents constitute about 1 percent of all homicides in the United States in which the victim-offender relationship is known.

The latest study I found on “parricide” reveals that between 1976 and 2007, there were an estimated 133 offenders arrested per year for killing their fathers, an estimated 113 offenders were arrested per year for killing their mothers, an estimated 50 offenders were arrested per year for killing their stepfathers, and an estimated seven offenders were arrested per year for killing their stepmothers. Contrary to popular belief, most of the offenders were not young children or teens; the average age of offenders was between 23 and 32.

Even though Black folks like to argue, “these kids today are killing their parents,” all the studies show that parricide offenders, 73% of them, are more likely to be middle to upper-class White males.  So not only is parricide a rare event in the U.S. and more likely to be committed by White males, in Black communities our children are more at risk of being killed by their parents and caretakers than being harmed by their own children.

An average of 365 Black children die annually as a result of maltreatment. This is a rate that is three times higher than for all other racial groups. Most of the fatalities that occur as a result of physical punishment are not committed by sadistic parents who torture their kids. Every district attorney I have ever talked to about these fatalities has reported that the parents who kill their children did so accidently while spanking.

When there are cases of kids killing their parents, there’s usually a backstory. Here is a list of factors I’m citing from studies on parricide.

  • Family isolated either by geography or behavior and life style from surrounding community.
  • One or both parents substance abusers, particularly alcohol.
  • Child has not been in trouble with authorities.
  • Guns are the most common form of weapon. Most commonly found in the home.
  • Child has told teachers, friends or someone about abuse.
  • Warnings have been ignored, or law enforcement, social services and other agencies repeatedly return child to abusers. •Precipitating “triggering” event, such as sibling leaving, divorce, loss of job, change in surroundings, leads to killings.
  • Crimes are ALWAYS premeditated, in the sense that abused children have thought about killing the abuser (or committing suicide) for many years.
  • Crimes are always unusually violent. “Overkill” is a hallmark of parricide.
  • Parent is often sleeping or in a defenseless position when crime occurs, which doesn’t fit legal definition of “self-defense.”
  • Kids historically get tougher sentences for killing a parent than a parent gets for killing a child – though most do NOT receive life without parole.

I started plotting to kill my adoptive mother during my pre-teens. I did so because I wanted her to stop whupping me. I was tired of being afraid. I felt voiceless, powerless, and that I had no one to turn to for protection. With each hit I grew more angry and resentful. I always promised, “The next time she hits me I’m going to wait until she goes to sleep and I’m going to stab her.” I even fantasized about tying her up and whupping her with all the objects she every used on me: belts, switches, extension cords, a broom, hot comb, and whatever else I could pick up. I share this because I believe that assaulting a child is more likely to put a child at risk of hitting or killing a parent than refraining from spanking them because 50 years worth of studies have shown that spanking can lead to aggressive behaviors and violence.

Black folks, we should be dealing with the FACTS – the horrific number of children in our communities dying each day and being facilitated through the foster care system.  We should be having serious discussions about healthier non-violent alternatives to physical punishment instead of deflecting and shutting down conversations by trafficking in racist mythologies about our children.


3 Reasons Why Black Folks Still Justify Whupping Our Kids

By June Allen

When I was a child I was terrified of being a parent. My earliest memory was being beaten by my mother. I don’t remember what provoked her, but I still have flashbacks of her raging hands and feet against my small, brown body.

When I found out I was pregnant, the fear of being just like her intensified. I believed that I was destined to harm my daughter, because of what I had experienced. Thankfully, the love I had for my unborn child drove me to break this abusive pathology.

I am so grateful to have found Dr. Stacey Patton’s work via social media. As a virtual big sister, she had my inner child’s back. I adored her honesty, empathy and fearlessness, which also empowered me as a black parent to speak.

In this piece, I share the 3 reasons we still justify whupping our children. I also reveal the tools that helped me process the layers of trauma, and the hope building my legacy of compassionate parenting.

1. We are emotionally disconnected from our bodies.
When we experience trauma, we disconnect from ourselves in order to tolerate the overwhelming pain. This can be helpful in extreme cases (like a car accident). but when the trauma is inflicted by our parents, it has devastating consequences on our relational well-being.

Disconnecting from painful emotions also robs us of the feelings that bring us joy. Over time, this leaves us feeling hollow, our souls feeling numb and empty. When we are so detached from our own humanity, we can’t empathize with our children’s pain.

During an early therapy session, I couldn’t answer the question, “So what happened to all the feelings around these experiences?” I was too numb to articulate my feelings.

Whilst we may not consciously recall our parents’ cruelty, memories linger in the unconscious mind and body. When we become parents, many cling to whuppings, making our children scapegoats for our unacknowledged trauma and buried rage. If we stopped whupping our children then we’d be left to face our own unresolved pain.

2. We don’t want to admit that our parents were abusive.
Our brains are wired for survival, so the child’s attachment process has powerful, primal ties to ensure success. When parents are violent, the unconscious mind uses denial and fantasy, to maintain the bond and protect us from the truth.

The Bible is also a convenient shaming tool, which feeds this avoidant behavior. Ephesians 6:1-2 says, ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise.’ My parents were devout Christians, so with this scripture ringing in my ears, I understood that my pain was invisible and they could absolve themselves of any responsibility for their abusive, neglectful behavior by disguising it as a religious mandate.

When my mother lashed out and my father didn’t protect us, I learned that people who ‘loved’ me were allowed to hurt me. When I saw other black children being pinched, slapped, punched and having their hair pulled, I felt the pain as if it was happening to me. I kept myself small and lost myself time and time again, inside the narcissistic needs of others.

3. Whuppings are white supremacy on autopilot.
During my psychotherapy training, I discovered Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire, the 18th-century plantation diaries of Thomas Thistlewood, a vicious British slave owner who thrived on traumatizing the slaves to assert his power and maintain control.

His methods included raping 158 women 3,852 times; snatching young babies from their mothers to break any attachment and burning them to death over a slow fire. He punished slaves by forcing one to defecate inside the mouth of the accused, who would then be gagged for hours.

This book hit home for me, as Thistlewood’s plantation was in Jamaica where my parents were raised. My ancestors left those plantations with no emotional support, or true understanding of the psychological poison left behind to bleed inside our families in the afterlife of slavery. Seeing the names of his victims humanized the numbers, and allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of our intergenerational trauma.

The goal of white supremacy is to pass its poisonous legacy onto future generations. When we are violent towards our black children, we recycle white supremacist violence against us. When we hurt and silence our children, we feel a temporary sense of power inside a system of insane powerlessness.

With so many layers to heal around this issue, where do we begin? Compassionate parenting begins with being compassionate towards the self.

In 2009, I began working an anonymous 12 step program to begin healing. The meetings provide powerful opportunities for identification; the tools hold me through the excruciating surrender to my truth.

For the first time in my life, I experienced true kindness. I felt heard. I mattered. I was not alone. Over the years, I have built a solid network of black fellows who have now become my trusted family of choice.

I also attended therapy, which became my golden hour to unravel the layers of pain and trauma around my abusive childhood experiences. As a black man, my therapist challenged my fear of racial intimacy, and held the space for me to process the shame and self-loathing keeping me from greatness.

Compassionate parenting is a heart-centered journey of connection, growth and acceptance. As I consciously raise my daughter through each milestone, I am also given the opportunity to re-parent my own wounded inner child. While the inner work is sometimes slow and often painful, I have never hit my daughter and connect with her on a much deeper level.

My journey of recovery has now become a service, where I teach the power of racial intimacy, emotional sobriety and personal empowerment. My hope is that we commit to doing the work required to find inner peace, and return our beautiful, black children to the honored, sacred space in our families where they belong.

June Allen (@yardofgreatness), a guest contributor to Spare the Kids, is a racial wellness educator based in London, UK.  Join her for the podcast edition of this post where she shares more details, tools and insights at  


“I’ll Beat Yo’ Ass!” Thank God Kendrick Lamar Doesn’t Celebrate His Mama’s Whuppings

I finally got a chance to listen to Kendrick Lamar’s “Fear,” a feature song from his new album ‘Damn.’

The song takes us on a journey through his developmental stages of fear, beginning with his childhood at age 7, then 17, and 27. Each stage represents a window into Lamar’s awareness of how the toxic smog of white supremacy poisons Black life at every turn, especially our intimate and social relationships with each other.

Lamar’s lyrical analysis of his own life cycle reveals that Black folks never age out of fear because at each developmental milestone we are met with new amped up forms of devaluation by the state, other Black folks who are walking around as victims of unrecognized traumas, and from the people who are supposed to love us and provide a refuge from hate and violence.

In a recent Facebook post, I griped about how I hear so many Black parents sowing the seeds of fear in their children early on. I wrote:

It really unnerves me when I hear black people say, “I want my child to fear me.”


There’s already so much racist ugly in the world for them to fear. There’s already so many mean-spirited people in the world who hate and want to destroy us. Why, as their giver and nurturer of life, would you want to put yourself within that spectrum of angst and devaluation?

And from a scientific perspective, fear is a form of chronic stress that activates biochemical responses in your child’s body which moves them into maximum alert in times of threat, and they don’t always immediately return to normal levels.

Fear causes inflammation throughout the body and prompts biological changes that can affect the immune, vascular, metabolic and endocrine systems, and can prompt their cells to age more quickly. This cumulative wear and tear – known as an “allostatic load” – can negatively impact your son or daughter beyond childhood, and even the future health of their children because stress also causes genetic changes.

Fear is killing black people. And I’m not being hyperbolic. Just take a look at any report on health disparities. The foundation is often laid with the accumulation of toxic stress that begins in childhood.

The fear, the pain and damage of unresolved childhood traumas is the bitter root of most of what ails our communities: child abuse, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, misogyny, misandry, phobias, substance abuse, and dare I say so much of our political fecklessness. So many of us are walking around saying, “I turned out fine.” But really, so many of us are victims of unrecognized trauma.

If we prime our children to fear the people who love them most and teach them that obedience is survival and their greatest virtue, then how can we expect to raise future generations of young people to engage in effective resistance against our enemies?

Fear does not equal respect.

A few days later, a number of folks sent me messages on Facebook: “Did you hear Kendrick Lamar’s new song? He talks about beatings.” So I begrudgingly decided to check it out, thinking that it was going to be yet another one of those rap songs by a Black male artist thanking and celebrating his mama for hurting his body to prepare him for a cruel racist world.

Here’s that verse folks were telling me about:

“I beat yo’ ass, keep talkin’ back

I beat yo’ ass, who bought you that?

You stole it, I beat yo’ ass if you say that game is broken

I beat yo’ ass if you jump on my couch

I beat yo’ ass if you walk in this house with tears in your eyes

Runnin’ from poopoo and ‘prentice

Go back outside, I beat yo’ ass lil nigga

That homework better be finished, I beat yo’ ass

Yo’ teachers better not be bitchin’ ’bout you in class

That pizza better not be wasted, you eat it all

That TV better not be loud if you got it on

Them Jordans better not get dirty when I just bought ’em

Better not hear ’bout you humpin’ on Kiesha’s daughter

Better not hear you got caught up, I beat yo’ ass

You better not run to your father, I beat yo’ ass

You know my patience runnin’ thin

I got buku payments to make

County building’s on my ass

Tryna take my food stamps away

I beat yo’ ass if you tell them social workers he live here

I beat yo’ ass if I beat yo’ ass twice and you still here

Seven years old, think you run this house by yourself?

Nigga, you gon’ fear me if you don’t fear no one else”

I won’t dissect the entire song, but I’ll focus on that first verse because it is yet another testimony of a Black male rapper reflecting back on his mother’s cruelty and how that pain has continued to reside within his body and spirit as a grown man.   What it reveals is how a Black boy had to grow up under constant attack, on guard, and unconsciously reacting to his own repressed past.

Sadly, like many young Black males, Lamar’s first experiences with cruelty and humiliation came at the hands of his mother. But unlike other artists before him, Lamar does not celebrate his mother’s cruelty by calling her a “queen,” thanking her for the beatings, and crediting mother-perpetrated violence for his success.

Lamar is different from the Black boys and men that have for generations accepted the internalized “lie” that slavery, Jim Crow, and racist policing practices requires cruelty to protect Black children, especially males, from their own impulses. While his mother tried to conceal her cruelty to justify the beatings, a more honest truth emerges from Lamar’s lyrics: he never associated the beatings and the fear with safety and comfort and love.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Black mothers who whup their sons and terrorize them in early child do not truly realize the damage they are doing. And yet, the racist notions of Black boys as deviant and violent are ultimately reinforced by parents who are doing their best to minimize the stressful realities of poverty, racism, sexism, and inequality.

Like many folks in the Black community, his mother may have rationalized her violence against her son by calling the harsh discipline an expression of love that ultimately kept him safe and led to his success. But this kind of denial and justification, and even much of the joking about being whupped, feeds the cycle of abuse in Black communities and drives the truth about our traumas underground.

Think about Ghostface Killah’s song “Whip You with a Strap,” from his 2006 album Fishscale. He recalls his mother’s response to his temper tantrums:

“Take me across her lap, she used to whip me with a strap

When I was bad


Take me across her lap, she used to whip me with a strap
When I was bad

Picture me snotty nose sittin on my aunt’s lap

The kid like 5 or 6 shit I will curse back

I got it from the older folks sittin in the living room

Everybody had cups stylistic song boom

But then came Darryl Mack lightin’ all the reefer up

Baby caught a contact I’m trying to tie my sneaker up

I’m missing all the loops strings going in the wrong holes

It feels like I’m wobbling, look at all these afros

Soon as I thought I was good the joke’s on me

I heard a voice “get in the room, I get angry”

Sting my feet catch a tantrum

Spit, scream, fuck that

Momma shake me real hard, then get the big gat

That’s called the belt help me as I yelled

I’m in the room like (panting)”huh, huh, huh” with mad welps

Ragged out, bad belt yes her presence was felt

Then get my black ass in the bed it’s time crash out (crash out)

Take me across her lap, she used to whip me with a strap

When I was bad


Despite the alcohol, I had a great old Mama

She famous for her slaps and to this day she’s honored

But when I was a lil dude her son was a lil rude

I picked the peas off my plate and pour juice in her nigga food

Get beat, then I’d run and tell grandman “mama hit me for no reason”

She whipped me hard when I finished eatin

And felt that belt stingin after I wet that bed

Hid my drawers and start cryin, when she felt that bed

Caught another when I told her those the fake pro-keds

In the corner weavin and screamin trying to block my head (ahHH!)

Nowadays kids don’t get beat, they get big treats

Fresh pair of sneaks, punishments like have a ceas

Back then when friends and neighbors would bust that ass

And bring you back to your momma she got the switch in the stash

That’s back to back beatings

Only went outside for free lunch with welts on my legs still leakin yo

Take me across her lap, she used to whip me with a strap

When I was bad


While the cruel Black Mama is often placed on a pedestal, innocent black women ultimately become the targets of this repressed rage accumulated since boyhood. As Howard University Law School professor Reginald Robinson has noted, “that cruelty gets repressed, surfacing again as nearly autobiographical lyrics because these artists uncon-sciously need to reveal the truth of their cruel sufferings to others, and they need others like enlightened witnesses to validate their lyric-based personal histories, without at the same time directly confronting their cruel mothers.”

He further explains that these artists, who may not have been touched lovingly as children, become hyper-masculine as a defense mechanism as they relive their painful childhood experiences through their music. They’d never admit to it, but these men really want to assault the mothers who were the first to hurt and emasculate them.

It’s important to emphasize that black men are not born hating black women. It is the trauma they suffer that teaches them the need for self-preservation. But there are very few spaces for black men to talk about their trauma and pain other than through comedy, rap music, or nostalgic anecdotes about being whupped and turning out fine. Even speaking about their abusive experiences at the hands of Black women is often considered misogynistic.

I hope that folks will really listen to each verse of “Fear” and understand how the insanity of white supremacy requires the destruction of Black children physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. And the greatest trick of all is to invite their loved ones to participate in the process.

If we are ever going to become more politically effective warriors in the fight for racial justice, producing children who live with toxic fear in their body is the very last thing that Black America needs.

There Is No Difference Between Spanking and Abuse. Both Have the Same Karma.

It never fails. Every time the subject of corporal punishment is discussed, I always hear a chorus of people parroting the same line: “there’s a difference between spanking and abusing a child.” That’s because many people define abuse by visible injuries on a child’s body.

But there is no thin line between spanking and abuse. They both exist on a continuum of violence. The only difference between these two forms of violence is that one stems from a parent’s intent to teach or protect, and the other from malicious neglect. But while adults play semantics, children’s bodies do not process the violence differently based on wordplay or the intent behind the hit. Just ask a child if they can describe how a spanking better than a whupping or beating.

Fifty years worth of scientific studies has shown that all forms of hitting, even when there are no bruises or other injuries left behind, causes structural damage to a child’s developing brain, can compromise their immune system, places them at risk for delinquency and incarceration, poor intellectual, psychological, and chronic health problems later in life.

Studies of brain scans by doctors at Harvard Medical School reveal the devastating effect corporal punishment has had on young adults. The brain scans of corporally punished young adults (not subjects who were bruised or severely injured) show nearly 20 percent reduction in the volume of gray matter in certain areas of the prefrontal cortex of their brains, compared with those who were not hit.

When a child is threatened with a whupping or is hit, their body is flooded with certain stress hormones, which can damage the hippocampus, which may in turn affect their ability to cope with stress later in life. Gray matter is associated with intelligence, executive functioning, emotional regulation and memory. Harm to that region is linked to depression, alcohol and drug addiction, aggression, and other mental health disorders. Structural changes to a child’s developing brain can also cause impulsiveness, emotional volatility, and slow brain processing speed, which can contribute the likelihood of an individual ending up in jail.

A growing body of research suggests that what happens outside the child’s body can profoundly affect their biology within. When a parent threatens or hits a child, they can see the fear on a child’s face, see their body flinch or attempt to defend themselves, and hear their cries and pleading. But what they can’t see is the biochemical responses — the fight or flight response — they’ve ignited under their child’s flesh.

The hitting stops. The child stops crying. Their eyes are dry again. The heart rate is back to normal. You’ve put the belt away. Your breathing and heart rate is back to normal. But the biochemical responses that have been activated in your child’s body (from the moment you threatened the child) don’t always immediately return to normal. For the next few minutes, or even hours, the brain, liver, kidneys, heart, adrenal glands, gut and other parts of the immune system continue to cope with the stress. When stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction, or the sympathetic nervous system moves into maximum alert in times of threat, stays turned on.

The Sympathetic Nervous System moves into maximum alert in times of threat.

Let me say this again, threatening and hitting a child is a form of chronic stress that raises levels of hormones and causes inflammation throughout the body and prompts biological changes that can affect the immune, vascular, metabolic and endocrine systems, and can prompt their cells to age more quickly. This cumulative wear and tear – known as an “allostatic load” – can negatively impact an individual beyond childhood, and even the future health of their children because stress also causes genetic changes.

No wonder America is last in many categories of health and wellness throughout the industrialized world. And African Americans suffer even higher rates of chronic health problems that other racial groups in this country because of racial discrimination, poverty, bad environments, poor access to healthy food, and adverse childhood experiences, which includes the fact that the majority of black folks believe in whupping children.

So when you hit your child, to any degree and no matter the intent or whether or not it results in injury, you contribute to the rapid deterioration of their health and place them at risk for developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, joint degeneration, cancer, a lowered lifespan, and future generations of children who inherit genetic changes.

Hitting your child might get your child to act right in the short term, but are the risks to their emotional and physical wellbeing worth it in the long run?


Dear Mother Wit: My 3-Year-Old Is Hitting Me!

Dear Mother Wit, I have a 3-year-old son who hits me, scratches me, pulls my hair, throws things at me, punches and spits at me. Before my son was born I didn’t believe in spanking. I was never spanked. However, I was also a well-mannered child, the complete opposite of my son. I have tried every tactic to tame my son’s behavior such as reasoning with him and explaining why his behavior is unacceptable and the consequences for them, I’ve restrained him when necessary and I also use the time out method, I have been consistent with discipline, but nothing seems to work. Most times, my son tends to really hurt me. He has pulled hair out of my scalp, he has scratched the cornea of my eye and has caused me to lose most vision in that eye for a week. I just don’t know what else to do. Spanking seems to be the only option. What do you suggest?

Bruised & Confused

Dear Bruised & Confused:

Pinching, biting, scratching, and pulling hair is all normal behavior for toddlers because they haven’t learned how to control their emotions yet, they act out of a natural instinct, and children LOVE attention whether they get a positive or negative reaction.

You have a complicated situation. And you didn’t say, but I have to wonder: is your son witnessing or experiencing any kind of violence in your home or anyplace else? What I mean by that is, children who are around physical violence—especially those who see their parents or other adults fighting—grow up learning that this is normal and acceptable. I hope you’re not in any kind of abusive situation and that if you are, you get help right away.

Now let’s focus on your son. Your son is still a toddler at three years old. So when he feels angry or frustrated or even scared, he might hit, pull hair, and all that. And the worst thing you can do is spank or hit him (or do any of the things he’s doing to you) to punish him or to “show him how it feels.” Even though I know it can be tempting. You don’t want to hit and yell because you’ll be modeling for your son that this is an acceptable response to situations that make you angry.

You need stay calm and in control, and stop his behavior by removing him from the situation. If you have to, restrain his hands to protect yourself.

Some children hit their parent to get their attention and then we reward the behavior by teaching them that hitting is a good way to get it. But to get them stop this negative behavior you have to be consistent in your body language and tone. At a young age they don’t really understand a lot of talking so you have to firmly use simple words like “NO!” “We don’t hit!” “Hands are not for hitting.” Try doing this while holding their hands and counting backward slowly from 10. After doing this enough times your child will not like being confined and the message will catch on.

I noticed that you didn’t say when your son acts violently with you—are there things that make him angry, or is he doing these things randomly?

Acknowledge your child’s feelings and let him know that it is okay to feel mad but hitting hurts and it is not okay. Show your child what to do instead of hitting. Show him how to touch people gently and to use appropriate words to express his frustration. (Use the helpful feelings chart below) Give him positive reinforcement when he is gentle and kind.

A helpful feelings chart,

I want you to notice when your son acts like this. Write it down—take some notes with details to see if there might be a pattern. Also take him to the pediatrician and ask your doctor if there is anything going on medically or with your son’s health that could be causing this violence.

Next, think about what your son likes to do—toys or games he likes to play with, TV shows he likes to watch, things he likes to eat, etc. Explain to your son—calmly and gently—that hitting, spitting, punching, pulling hair—those are not acceptable ways to let you know if he’s feeling angry, tired, hungry, frustrated or scared. Teach him the words for those feelings, and encourage him to use them. At his age, you might also want to try a feelings chart that the two of you can use to see how he’s feeling, and then you can talk to him about better ways to handle those feelings.

Right now, your son doesn’t have healthy or safe ways to let you know what’s he’s feeling. Talk with the doctor, and if you feel helpless, ask for help. Ask if there are books you can read, videos you can watch, even classes you can take (parenting classes can really help in tough situations). The good news is that you’re not the first mother to experience this and it doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job. You just need to take control of the situation before it gets even worse.

Your son might need more gentle, affectionate, soothing touch. Find out what calms him. Hold him, rock him, and make sure he’s getting plenty of love. And he might be a child who uses his hands to express himself. Look for fun, safe ways to help him express his feelings without hurting others (or himself).

Good luck! Be sure to check back and let me know how it’s going, okay? You might learn some things that can help other parents, and that’s what this is really all about.

With love,

Mother Wit

“You Won’t Have No More Trouble Out of Her!”

A white teacher shares a powerful memory of a Black mom who whupped her daughter in front of his class 40 years ago.

For the past week, I’ve been receiving scores of emails and tweets from readers about my latest piece for The New York TimesStop Beating Black Children. Some of those messages have been positive and some of them not worth reading to the end. But one letter from a retired schoolteacher left me in stunned silence because it took me back to my own childhood. The teacher, who is now in his seventies, gave me permission to reprint his letter but asked that I not reveal his name.

Here’s what he wrote on March 16:

“Professor Patton,

My name is XXXX XXXXXX.  I am White.  I grew up in a lower middle-class Jewish home where a hand was never laid upon me as a form of discipline. I employed that same form of discipline with my own three children. 

I also possess a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education, a Master’s Degree in the Psychology of Reading, am a Board Certified Reading Specialist in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania where I taught beginning in the late 1960’s for forty-years for the School District of Philadelphia, working with Black children and other minority students of color during that entire tenure in the most impoverished neighborhoods of that city where my students’ families lived in abject poverty while coming to class with more psychological, emotional and physical baggage than any child attending elementary school should be asked to carry.  Because of where I grew up and went to school, I had no meaningful contact with children of color and their families until I began my first year of teaching, which was almost my last.

During that first year I asked for the parents of one of my students who I was having difficulty teaching to come after school for a parental conference to discuss the situation.  While I was teaching my class the day of the conference, the girl’s mother walked into my classroom without announcing herself, grabbed a hold of her daughter, threw her to the floor, took an extension cord out of her pocketbook and began to beat that child until she was crying hysterically, stopped, turned to me and said, “Mr. XXXXXX, you won’t have no more trouble from her,” turned and walked out the door. 

To say I was in a state of shock would be the understatement of the year.  Viewing just what took place, never having had experienced anything like that in my life, not ever thinking that anything like that could happen, I was briefly in a state of paralysis.  When what took place finally hit me, I asked two of the other girls in the class to take the beaten girl to the nurse’s office, called the principal to explain what had just happened and then went next door to ask a teacher’s aide to watch my class when I went to the men’s room to compose myself. 

At the end of the day of wasn’t sure if teaching was the right choice as a profession for me and wondered if I would even return the next day to get my personal possessions.  What changed my mind was speaking to an older more experienced Black teacher before I left school that day who had dealt with these kinds of situations over the years and somehow convinced me that I had the makings of a great teacher, that these children needed me as much as I needed them and that I should return the next day and pick up where I had left off.  I did, and eventually went on to have a successful forty year career doing something I loved, turning down promotions to better neighborhoods in the city that were not impoverished and whose students, whose families were not living in abject poverty.

The advice that of the more experienced Black teacher was the truth: I needed to be with my first students as much as they needed me to be their teacher.  I don’t know what potential that other teacher saw in me, but she was more prescient than I could have every imagined. One thing I didn’t recover from so quickly was asking for any parents to come in to talk about their children, as at least tens years or so went by before I did again. 

I have first-hand knowledge of everything you addressed in your article and couldn’t agree with you more.  After centuries of existence, there are still so many cultural, racial, religious, ethnic and socio-economics problems that our country faces that one can’t fathom even where to begin.  As I approach the age of seventy I am sadden by what I read in the newspaper and see on the news, because it seems the stories never change, only the names and with the election of that imbecile in the White House, I can only see things growing worse than they already are. 

I can only hope that members of one of our country’s demographics grow old and go the way of the Dodo and younger generations, who are more tolerant and compassionate will rise up in a world where we don’t see everyone that doesn’t look like us as the “Other,” a phrase Malcom Gladwell coined and that the words of Martin Luther King become reality when he said, “I have a dream that our children will be judged by the strength of their character, and not the color of their skin.”  I know I will not be around to see that come to be, but everyday I’m still alive, I hope that my three grandchildren, who are biracial and multiracial, will.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Yours truly,


This letter touched me because it brought up memories from my own childhood. It forced me to remember all those times when my adoptive mother slapped me in front of my teachers when they reported that I was a disruptive chatterbox in class or that my performance was slacking. I remembered all those times when I couldn’t sit comfortably in my desk the next day after being whupped for negative comments on my report cards.

A teen who was forced to wear a shaming sign because of his poor grades.

This white male teacher’s letter made me remember a scene from fourth grade when a classmate’s mother came up to the school and beat him in front of the class with a handful of switches. Situations like this built a wall of distrust between our teachers and us. They dimmed the light in our eyes. Shut down our curiosity. Silenced us. Made us resistant to learning. Kept us from asking questions and made us fearful of making mistakes, which is required for the learning process. In our mind, teachers were the enemy who had the power to have us whupped.

I hated my white teachers for sitting back and allowing these beatings to go down. I felt that they were complicit in our abuse. How could they be okay with standing there and watching our parents slap and beat up? Why didn’t they intervene? If they knew that our bodies were going to be hurt, then why did they keep telling our parents when we messed up? Not to mention, our parents never allowed us the chance to give our side of the story. They always took our teacher’s words over ours, and sometimes our teachers really were mean or racists who shouldn’t have been teaching black children.

All these years, until I received this teacher’s poignant letter, I felt that educators were willfully complicit in the pain meted out on Black children by parents, who did not have the tools to address their children’s behaviors at school. Sometimes these parents were still holding on to their own traumas they experienced at school. Maybe their parents handled similar situations the same way. My adoptive mother was whupped at school and never got past junior high. And so she hit me out of frustration and embarrassment. She was not intellectually equipped to help me meet the challenges of school life but she felt that she could beat good behavior and good grades into me.

Parents who engage in this kind of behavior want to show their child that they are “boss.” They actually believe that they are assisting the teacher by demonstrating that they “don’t take not stuff,” and are a good, responsible Black parent. Just as enslaved parents did on plantations centuries ago.

Situations like this can escalate into serious abuse, or even fatalities. In February 2015, a Florida woman was arrested for beating her daughter over bad grades and making her wear a shaming T-shirt. A year later, 14-year-old Jalen Daniel’s parents beat him to death over bad grades. A simple Google search turns up scores of similar stories.

For a long time, I assumed that teachers never thought about the power and impact of their reports to parents. But this letter shows that at least some teachers were deeply affected. Even more telling, that scene in his classroom kept him from communicating with parents about their child’s progress for fear that his students might be beaten.

In a follow-up note, he said that he never regretted his decision to stay and teach. “Working with the kind of children I described in my letter, who were still young enough to wear an aura of innocence and trust about them and were still able to see only the good in people, was not only a joy, but a refuge from the problems I endured in my own life which paled in comparison to what that had to suffer.  I always felt and still do that helping a child is the noblest thing an adult could do . . . I can’t think of anything worth fighting for more than the lives and futures of our children.”


Dear Mother Wit: My Child Is Playing With His Poop!

Dear Mother Wit,

I’m a young mom trying to raise two young boys.  I don’t know what to do about my son’s behavior. He only does this at school.  Today he threw his poop in another stall and I soooo bad wanted to kill him but your posts keep reminding me that I could be his first bully.  Please help.

Dear frustrated Mama,

Thanks for writing.  I realize this behavior is frustrating and just straight up nasty, but don’t hurt him.  The fact is, and this may sound strange, “diaper digging” is perfectly normal behavior in young children.  Every behavior meets a need: before you punish your son, investigate.

Before we can explore some tips to help guide your son through this phase, we gotta figure out the WHY behind your son’s poo play.

When a child plays with their own poop that means he or she is struggling with attempting to master his or her own body, to control their own functions, and is quite curious about what his body is producing.  And this is actually a sign that your son is interested in exploring potty training.  Your son might be taking his poop out of the diaper because he doesn’t like the feeling of being dirty, or because his nose is stimulated by the smell, or because he is simply curious.

How old is your son, by the way?  If he is playing with his poo past age 4 or 5 then you should be concerned and talk to his pediatrician.  I did a little bit of medical reading for you and found that there might be some medical causes.  Here’s a list for you.  Write these down on a sheet of paper, take it to your pediatrician and ask him/her to check to see if your son has any of these issues:

PROTOZOAL INFECTIONS can cause rectal digging behavior.

PICA the ingestion of non-foods, may be caused by nutritional deficiencies.

ENCOPORESIS (the medical term for chronic constipation, impacted stool and soiling) causes abdominal discomfort that is relieved by rectal digging.

HEMORRHOIDS are caused by straining to evacuate the bowels, and are the source of itching and pain around the anus, which leads to anal exploration and rectal digging.

RECTAL PROLAPSE occurs when the rectum slips out of position, and can be caused by prolonged encoporesis or low muscle tone in the pelvic floor.  Symptoms include fecal incontinence and a sensation of incomplete bowel evacuation, which lead to fecal smearing behaviors.

There may also be some underlying psychological issues at play.  I’m not suggesting that this is the case in your son, but we must explore this, Mama.  Fecal smearing past age 4 or 5 may be a sign of developmental delays or post-traumatic stress.  If so, your son may be engaging in this behavior as a form of communication.

So why do some children communicate with poo?  A number of shrinks and pediatricians have explain that it does the following:

— It gives a child the sense of control over his body and environment when other areas of life are out of control.

— It gives a child a sense of ownership over his actions.

— It helps a child express feelings of anger, frustration, helplessness and powerlessness.

— Allows a child to avoid unwanted social interaction.  And since you’ve indicated that he’s only doing this at school you may want to investigate what kinds of social interactions may be going down between him and other children or with his teacher.  He may be trying to communicate that something negative is going down in that environment.

— Allows the child to comfort himself, or it may be part of an obsession that is getting out of control.

So what can you do?

1. You have to use his poop play as a teaching moment and try to calmly say, “No playing with poop. Poop stays in the diaper or in the potty. We play with toys.”  Don’t get pissed off.  If you do that then your son knows that you will get pissed off every time this happens.  So he’ll keep doing it to get a lot of attention from you.

2. Limit your son’s access to his feces. Dress him in onesies, zip-up pajamas, or overalls.  This will at least buy you a few extra minutes to respond.

3. Closely monitor his bathroom routine, changing him or her soon after pooping or peeing.  And be sure to praise him once he has successfully used the bathroom.  Often parents only give a child negative attention when things go wrong.

4. Give him something messy to play with: clay, finger paints, shaving cream, and bread dough. Give him LOTS of praise for playing with this messy stuff verses the poo.  LOL.  A child that is deprived of sensory input who is then given frequent periods of supervised play with soft or sticky substances with strong smells to satisfying the craving for odors, can be alleviated from the need to play with poo.

If your son is not getting enough appropriate touching and stimulation of his senses, then frequent periods of supervised play with soft or sticky substances such as clay, shaving cream or bread dough can alleviate his need for handling feces.  Substances with a strong smell may also satisfy any craving for odors.

Remember, every behavior meets a need.  You need to move beyond your very understandable feelings of disgust and frustration and focus on what is behind your son’s behavior.  Your son’s behavior is a message that you need to focus on decoding.

Don’t hit the kids, hit the keyboard.  For alternatives to hitting ask Mother Wit!





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