“The parents are in a dilemma whether to forgo disciplining their children or to leave it up to law enforcement. Should we be apathetic, lax or indifferent and let the courts send our unruly children to jail or should we as parents do our duty and appropriately discipline our children?” Jones asked. “These are the questions every parent is asking today. The responsibility of the NAACP is to get out front and ask these culturally sensitive questions that affect the fundamental cause of freedom, equality and justice.”
Jones fails to realize that physically punishing black children in the name of protection and love could contribute to some of the problems that this tactic is believed to prevent — gang violence, bullying, school suspensions and incarceration.
And while he argues that the NAACP should help law enforcement officials become more culturally sensitive about discipline in black communities, it is clear that the organization has forgotten important lessons from its own history.
From its inception, the NAACP made black children central to its campaigns spotlighting racial injustice. During the Jim Crow era, when black communities were besieged by discrimination and violence, including the rape and lynching of children, the organization used images of healthy, happy babies and youth to illustrate that it was focused on protecting younger generations so that they could nonviolently fight prejudice.
At the dawn of the 20th century, the NAACP’s Crisis magazine included advice about the importance of nurturing and encouraging children. In my historical research, I found that the Crisis did not directly address physical discipline in its pages but instead focused on the care of children — feeding them, educating them, instilling racial pride and “respectable” behavior, and shielding them from trouble.
Flash forward a century, and Dollar’s supporters are hauling out the old argument that beating black children will save them from prison and harm. From comedians and superstar radio personalities to preachers and YouTube videos of child beatings, black culture encourages and even celebrates the beating of children. It continues to be part of how black Americans cope with a society that devalues them.
While corporal punishment crosses socioeconomic and racial lines, the ramifications for black communities are dire. These beatings can land children in foster care (where black children are overrepresented compared with their share of the general population). Though they’re taken away from abusive family members, foster care doesn’t ensure a smooth road forward — it increases kids’ chances of landing in jail. According to a 2010 study published by the Family Court Review, the number of children in foster care has almost doubled since the 1980s, and 25 percent of children leaving the system are incarcerated within their first couple of years on their own. “Foster youth are at an elevated risk of gang involvement as they seek to fill their family void,” the study concluded.