I routinely encounter disturbing videos in my Facebook news feed. Most aren’t worth acknowledging.
But a video of a little black boy named Josiah being hit in the face with a church program because he was yelling into his mother’s phone during church service, elicited a more urgent reaction. He was doing what small children do when they’re made to sit still and listen to loud music and adults yell for 2-3 hours. For any small child (and some adults), that is torture.
I’m not going to embed the video.
I won’t provide a link.
I will not add myself to a growing list of 25,602 Facebook users who shared what should have been at best, a private moment for little Josiah. That’s been overdone. It’s out there for anyone who cares to search for it.
Let me be clear: Josiah’s mother hit him one time on camera. This wasn’t the worst of these videos I’ve seen. Parents have posted dozens of videos showing how they discipline their children that run the spectrum from spankings to public humiliation, like shaving their hair and posting the punishment to social media.
What specifically was troubling to me in this instance was the fact that an adult hitting a small Black boy in the face with an object, in Church, was funny to thousands of Black people. That many Black people who watched the video remarked that the mother’s reaction was typical of Black women – one whose initial impulse is violence rather than kindness and empathy. That the discipline itself wasn’t enough and that the mother thought it’d be funny to share her small child’s embarrassment on social media where tens of thousands of strangers could laugh at his bewilderment and humiliation in perpetuity.
And consider what the child was saying. He wasn’t talking about cartoons or yelling child-like gibberish into the phone. He was complaining that the church was way too loud. What if he was attempting to articulate a sensory processing issue experienced due to the combination of music and singing?
After all, sensory processing is a recognized medical concern when, according to research from the Child Mind Institute, “children who are extremely sensitive to loud sounds, bright lights or scratchy clothes — or who get overwhelmed in noisy, crowded places, experience too much or too little stimulation through the senses.”
None of that seemed to matter. In the age of reality television, a person’s pain, even a defenseless one, is prime time entertainment. Their despair is a digital peep show.
In reality television, adults are recruited to give audiences access to their personal lives in exchange for fame. They are compensated for their troubles. Little Josiah wasn’t given the choice of whether he wanted to allow strangers access to his private moment.
And all he got was laughed at.
As troubling as it is, the video represents what an overwhelming majority of Black Americans believe when it comes to disciplining children within our community. “This belief isn’t grounded in research or widespread discussions of best practices, but rather in purported benefits in their own lives,” wrote journalist and professor Stacey Patton, in her 2017 book “Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America.”
Patton’s book title is as much of a plea to Black parents to reconsider corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure, as it is a play on the “Spare the rod” Christian concept.
The idea of “Sparing the rod”, she wrote, “grants parents permission from clergy and others who misinterpret scriptures to justify whipping children, just like white masters invoked scriptures to justify enslaving our ancestors.”
A 2009 National Institutes of Health study shows that corporal punishment is associated with a chronic, developmental stressor associated with depression, aggression and addictive behaviors.
Another study published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma, noted that the cognitive ability in children who were disciplined using corporal punishment declined significantly compared to those who were not hit.
And even though studies exist that prove hitting children cause neurological damage, many Black parents believe that violence is a highly effective way to discipline children within the black community.
According to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, Black parents hit their children 22 percent more than white parents.
In a recent phone conversation with Patton for another article for the Ark Republic, Patton said simply that Black parents erroneously think we’re protecting our children by hitting them. She said we’ve bought into America’s racist narrative about Black bodies that “the only way to make us “good, law-abiding, moral people is with a good whupping.”
The comments responding to the video confirm this. One Facebook user commented, “That smack with the program always worked for me.” Another user wrote, “My grandma would’ve done the same thing.” Others tagged Ellen Degeneres and Kevin Hart who sometimes feature funny and/or cute videos of children on their platforms in hopes they would do the same for little Josiah.
I hope not.
During our conversation, Patton directed me to a quote by W.E.B. Du Bois who said, “In the treatment of the child, the world foreshadows its own future and faith. All words and all thinking lead to the child – to that vast immortality and wide sweep of infinite possibility which the child represents.”
If a video circulated of a man slapping or hitting his wife or girlfriend made its rounds on the internet, most of us would be outraged. We’d be calling for this person to be brought to justice or worse. Where is that same level of humanity for our most vulnerable? Where is our patience for someone who is depending on us to guide them and be their teacher?
Patton said to me that she believes that Black children are “the antidote to racism.” That if we unapologetically center them, they can be the living reflection of our future.
But first, we’ve got to stop hitting them.