Black Childhood Trauma and Systemic Racism
“Black parents (many of them) hit to keep their kids from ‘turning bad’ but this does not work because Black children disproportionately suffer negative outcomes in educational achievement, juvenile arrests and foster care placements” (Stacey Patton PhD, 2017).
One day during instruction time, I, a Black girl, and my classmates were told to make a line spanning from our teacher’s school desk to the length of our schoolhouse. I immediately knew what this meant. It was time to show the teacher that we knew our spelling words. If you did not memorize your spelling words you would receive a stern lash or two across your behind.
Some of my classmates cried while others held on to the pain and embarrassment as if it were some sort of badge of bravery.
When it was my turn, sure enough, I would misspell a word. Even to this day I struggle with spelling multi-syllabic words out loud.
My heart raced and tears began to form in anticipation of the “punishment” I would receive. I was told to wrap the hem of my uniform dress around by arms slightly bending so that my dress was pulled taut across by behind. This method ensured that the fabric of my dress would not hinder the impact of the lashes.
I received two lashes and was sent back to my seat.
I believe it was at that moment that I became terrified to take academic risks for the sheer fact that if I did not get the right answer or my thought process was incorrect, I would be punished.
Empirical research shows that a child’s brain ceases to function properly when they have experienced trauma. In the Caribbean, where I grew up, the education system and the “norm” of Black parenting was the direct result of slavery of our ancestors. Nothing has changed! In fact, in certain states in America children are paddled as a disciplinary method. The acceptance of “beating” our children or allowing authority figures to strike our children as a form of punishment is NOT a part of our culture.
“[Black people] adopted the practice of beating children from white slave masters”(Stacey Patton PhD, 2017)
Furthermore, “Europeans brutalized their own children for thousand of years prior to crossing the Atlantic to the New World and colonizing Africa. ‘Whupping’ children is NOT a cultural practice that Africans brought with them to America [or the Caribbean]” (Stacey Patton PhD, 2017).
While, “Black parents have legitimate fears about the safety of their children,” striking our children and being struck as a child has resulted in adverse effects. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between childhood trauma and adult mental illness. Call it what you prefer: corporal punishment, spanking or pow pow. This violent way of communicating disappointment or somehow “protecting” our children from systemic injustice is physical abuse. Not to mention, it does not work.
Fortunately, I could count on one hand how many times I was spanked as a child (in school and at home). However, having to witness other children by age being beaten with objects and hearing their endless creates contributes to my trauma. My fear of taking healthy risks is one factor that permeates some of my ways of being. This is the result of experiencing trauma as a Black girl growing up in a colonized land. Perfectionism, overly considering others, and my inability to say “No” hinders my ability to have a balanced life – an area where Black women struggle most.
Reflecting on Self
Life is a journey. This, I wholeheartedly believe. My mental health is far more important to me today than it was a decade ago. A decade ago, I endured domestic violence. I fought with myself mentally and emotionally in order to save myself and my children. What will my children think? I don’t deserve this, but who would love me after this? I have done everything correct, what did I do wrong? I can fix this. I can fix him.
Below are some action steps that have supported me on this journey of breaking free from the slave masters indoctrination of my Black people:
- Research/ Reading
- Practicing behaviors that attribute to self-love and self-reflection.
- Recognizing and owning traumatic experiences. (Whether they occurred in childhood or as a result of childhood experiences.)
- Actively working on banishing blaming, shaming, and fear.
This list is by far not exhaustive but a great starting point. This is not an easy feat and I am still on that journey. I encourage you to call the negative experiences you have had as a child for what they are. No sugar coating or excuses.
To Wrap Up:
“The use of corporal punishment in Black communities today is a byproduct of centuries of slavery, the racial terrorism of the Jim Crow era and exposure to racism that continues to chip away at the vitality of Black life. Black parents have been encouraged to be part of the dehumanization process of their Black children since before America’s founding” (Stacey Patton PhD, 2017).
Today we know better!
We can heal for ourselves and for the future of all Black children! Rise strong my beautiful and brilliant Black Queens! Don’t forget to comment below OR contact us directly. We would love to hear your thoughts.
Stacey Patton PhD, (2017, April). Corporal punishment in black communities: Not an intrinsic cultural tradition but racial trauma: Insights into the historical roots of African parenting. Retrieved August 2020, from American Psychological Association : https://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/newsletter/2017/04/racial-trauma