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Dr. Patton’s Blog

“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.”

Why?

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

Bad

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

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

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?

 

Facebook Live Reading & Discussion

3/21/2017

Dr. Stacey Patton reads from her new book, Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America and engages her audience with a Q & A discussion on Facebook live.

“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,

XXXXXX XXXXXXXX”

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.”

 

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