Love and Fear: Corporal Punishment Part 2

“A lie, told often enough, becomes the truth.”

-Vladimir Lenin

“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.”

-Adolf Hitler

“When a myth is shared by large numbers of people, it becomes a reality.”

-Lawrence Blair

Dear Dr. Kane:

I don’t think Mrs. Spears did anything wrong and she should not be held accountable for punishing her children.  I think everything that has transpired gives the children the power to “do what they want” – and leads them to become career criminals—because  seeing their mother punished for disciplining them means that what they were doing is okay.

Instead of arresting Ms. Spears, they should have filed charges against the kids for the false report, and given them community service as a punishment.  This would be a win-win, in that it supports Ms. Spears’ position that what they did was wrong, it requires them to do something good for the community, and it gives them something to do.

It‘s unfortunate that people believe that spanking is the same as child abuse.  I think spanking is misunderstood.  As parents, it is our responsibility to raise good, upstanding kids that fear criminal activity. This poor mom needs help, not punishment.

A Concerned Reader, Seattle, WA


My Dear Readers,

Last week, I wrote about the story of an African-American mother who had physically disciplined her three sons for breaking into a neighbor’s home.   She disciplined them by hitting them with a RCA extension cord.  The encounter resulted in bleeding, lacerations, bruising, and cuts.  The mother was arrested, charged with child abuse and the children were removed from her custody.

In my response, I defined the difference between a spanking, which, done in a controlled manner, can be insightful, and a beating where the intent is to cause pain, fear, and psychological trauma.    I also provided research clearly showing that corporal punishment does not reduce black male criminal behavior.   Yet the responses show overwhelming support for physical punishment.  Why?

A dear friend and judge in the King County Superior Court recently sent me the following email after listening to a local African-American radio station:

“The radio callers absolutely supported the mother with the extension cord.  I waited in vain for another voice to be heard.”

Following the receipt of this email, I immediately sent the radio station last week’s blog, which included the data the lack of impact of corporal punishment on African-American male incarceration.  Despite my repeated attempts, the radio station has not responded.

In my role as a clinical traumatologist, I have provided data and clinical insight regarding the consequences of psychological trauma being impacted upon the African-American community, specifically affirming that as descendants of those enduring slavery, segregation and other forms of oppression, we are a people who are submerged deeply in trauma.  Yet we are openly applauding, supporting and encouraging methods of physical discipline that serve to reinforce our trauma…under the guise of good parenting?

There are several factors that influence the African-American community to support and encourage physical i.e. corporal punishment:

  • The fear of the police
  • Holding onto their own traumatic experiences of suffering under white oppression
  • Unresolved frustrations of social factors in which we have little control
  • The misreading of Scripture i.e. Proverbs 13:24. Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but who loves him is diligent to discipline him.


Dr. Kane’s Truths

We have bought the lie and have now made it our truth. 

Although a spanking may be viewed as a controlled method to gain a specific response, it now has been placed on the same plateau as a beating, which, during slavery times is nothing more than an uncontrolled reaction meant to simultaneously release one’s anger and to inflict pain and fear to another.

We have brought the psychological trauma of the slave master into the 21st Century and called it our own.

The argument of the parent’s right to utilize corporal punishment is as old and no different from that of a slave master in the 18th Century arguing his right to punish his slaves as he sees fit to do so.   Both arguments carry the themes of maintenance of order and discipline.

We live in fear.  We live in fear of the unknown that surrounds us.

As African-Americans, we live in a heightened state of vigilance.  This vigilance, over time, can make us act out our reactions based on fear, instead of us using that vigilance to craft responses based on balanced emotions and thoughts.  When one’s foundation is severely shaken, one can commit actions that can be psychologically traumatizing to self and others.

We beat our children because we do not love ourselves.

As terrible as this may sound, consider the following:

  • Why do we utilize the model of the slave master’s discipline towards our children?
  • Why do we support corporal punishment that results in lacerations, bleeding, bruising and cuts?
  • Why do we hold to biblical scriptures that reinforcing psychological trauma?
  • Why are we pressing, forcing for our children to model our behavior i.e. to live in fear?


Concluding Words

What will become of Ms. Spears?

Most likely, the district attorney will wait six months or so until the furor dies down and will quietly craft a plea bargain with Ms. Spears that acknowledges the error of her well-intended actions.  In return, she will be sentenced to probation, with a commitment not to re-offend, community service—most likely public speaking about child abuse, and parenting classes.  Her children will then be returned to her custody.

What will be gained or learned from this experience?

Nothing.  Ms. Spears and other single mothers raising their children will continue to view themselves and be viewed as victims of a racist and oppressive system.  Neither they nor the wider African-American community will further investigate the issues of psychological trauma or other methods of child and adolescent rearing without corporal punishment.

Why are we resistant to changing the way we discipline our children?

One, we have bought the lie that beating our children is the optimal way to raise them, and in using scripture to support that reasoning, we have made it our truth.  Just as the reader said,

“It is our responsibility to raise good upstanding kids that fear criminal activity and encourage the good.”

It may sound good, but this is clearly not true.  Yes, it is a parent’s responsibility to raise their children to be obedient to them and to be upstanding citizens. However, it is also a parent’s responsibility to ensure moral development.  We want to believe that our children will be good citizens and do good things because it is the right thing to do, not because of the fear of being incarcerated.

Two, we are comfortable “living in fear.”  This comfort does not mean we are happy. Instead, it means that we are so comfortable with these methods that we are not willing to even investigate others, for fear that they will not do the job well enough, regardless of data that shows how ineffective it is, and how it harms our children.  We are afraid of learning and adapting new and different methods in working with our children, so we choose to remain in our fear instead of being willing to do something different, which would require us to move forward, taking our fears with us.

Three, we are doing what we know, and not seeking other means.  We continue with the methods that we know, telling ourselves that “it worked with me, therefore it will work for my children.” Of the three reasons, this is the most dangerous because it assumes that simply because these methods worked in the past, that they will work in the future. This is like saying that because a computer worked for our purposes in the 1970s, it works for us now, even though it clearly cannot.  Environments change, our knowledge and consciousness expands, and most importantly, people transform.

As a community, we as African-Americans are traumatized and beholden to our past.  We beat our children to encourage good citizenry, even though our actions do not model those behaviors, under the guise of protecting them from a racist and inhumane criminal justice system.  In reality, all we are doing is shifting our anger, frustration and fear to those we say we love and sacrifice the most for.

Meanwhile, as the beatings continue, black males continue to have high rates of incarceration, high rates of domestic violence, and high rates of mental illness, drug abuse, and alcoholism—all of which are clear indicators of complex psychological trauma.

So the next time you beat your child, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did the same actions by the slave masters prevent the slaves from being disobedient or escaping the “loving care” of their masters?
  • Did fear make the slave into a better person? Will this do the same for your child?
  • Did the welts, bruises and pain inflicted onto the slave grow into “pleasant memories”? How will you respond when your grandchild comes to you for comfort following the same infliction of pain, fear, and trauma that you inflicted as a parent?

Please remember that psychological trauma is a permanent fixture within the body and psychological self. Those who are whipped and beaten down are likely to pass on the same behavior to their children.  If you love yourself, then don’t physically hurt your children.  There is already a cruel and inhumane criminal justice system waiting for the opportunity to do so.

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

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