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Spankings Coming Out Of Slavery

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Most slave owners and overseers believed Negroes would respond only to violent methods. In accordance with the racist Whites theory of the “animal-like” nature of the Negro, they believed formal punishments (e.g. fines and imprisonments) failed to act as deterrents to crime. Thus, most resorted to the lash while a tiny few resorted to paddling.

Note how these same evil beliefs and practices persist to this day. Slave children observed the helplessness and powerlessness of their parents against overwhelming European brutality and understandably recognized the White man as the highest authority. Furthermore, Slave parents (mainly the mother) were simply agents of their owner who conditioned their children to fulfill themselves by doing the owner’s bidding. Whereas the slave owner's children were highly valued, Slave children whom the slave owner claimed as his were terribly disrespected. African American slavery literature often makes the point that many Slave mothers appeared to care more about the owner’s White children than about their own. One reason is that Slave children did not belong to the Slave parents and could thus be degraded on the whim of slaver owners and overseers. It was inevitable that many Slaves would value what their owner valued— and reject what the owner considered inferior. When Slave children did look to their parents, they were taught through scolding and beating to submit to the system for their own safety. Slave parents therefore not only spanked their children to prevent violating the rules of Whites but also spanked when they believed the slave owner wanted that to happen, regardless of whether they thought it was justified. Hence, spankings or “whippings” became a part of the custom of the Slaves and continued post slavery.

Of significance is that although Slave adults were severely disciplined almost daily with the lash by slave owners and overseers and although Slave children were punished by both Slave parents (e.g. by spankings) and by the slave owner (with the lash), a certain humaneness persisted. For example, none of the White elderly, White widows, or White children were harmed by Slaves when their men-folk were away fighting for the Confederate Army and in the process burning down orphanages for Black children, including killing those children. During and after slavery all Negroes slept in fear because evil and sadistic White males were so crazy that no one knew when there would erupt in a killing spree-- and "for no reason" other than things were not going well for those White people (e.g. economic troubles). In other words, Slave and ex-Slave children were taught by their earliest experiences with White people to conform to the established "stay in your place" pattern.

Understandably, "Problematic Parenting" was typical for many Slaves and ex-Slaves in that hollering at, scolding, and rough spankings often occurred as a learned "reflex" from their hellish conditions and, to a much less extent, because stern discipline was an African Retention.

Long after slavery ended Negro parents punished the rebellious or naive inclinations of their children for approaching White people as equal human beings. Even in the North Negro mothers frequently reprimanded a child who approached a White stranger or made any effort to communicate with Whites in a "forward" manner or looked at a White person in the eye. These practices continued relatively intact up to the 1950s and accounted for the stern discipline I observed as a boy of Black youth by their parents. Since then the issue of how to best discipline children in general and whether or not to use spankings in particular has had a tremendous impact on society. With each passing day the best approach to disciplining youth is getting increasingly diverse. Today, White authorities stand on every point of whether to spank or not. Some clinical psychologists say spanking is never, ever appropriate because it shows the child you have no control over the situation. Some say spankings increase antisocial behavior (lying, cheating and bullying) period while others modify it by saying this occurs among White boys but shows as a decrease in aggression among Black boys. Some say there are beneficial effects from the spankings themselves and that spankings serve to reinforce lesser forms of discipline so that children are more apt to respond without spanking the next time. What do you think?

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