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(Black) Corporal Punishment: Historical Tradition Or Overlooked Abuse?

Maya Richard-Craven |
September 10, 2014 | 1:50 p.m. PDT


Ray Rice's casual attitude about punching his partner raises questions about everyday violence that is normalized within black communities. (@bepacozw, Twitter)
Ray Rice's casual attitude about punching his partner raises questions about everyday violence that is normalized within black communities. (@bepacozw, Twitter)
In February, TMZ released a video of professional football player Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiancé out of an elevator, but the NFL only suspended Rice for two games. After footage of what occured inside the elevator was released on Monday, the Baltimore Ravens decided to end the NFL Star’s contract. As inexcusable as his actions were, hundreds of men (and even some women) have taken to his defense on Twitter. While looking at the disgusting jokes and tweets about how "the b*tch deserved it" and how Rice "should have punched the b*tch out," I couldn't help but wonder if these tweets came from a deeply ingrained sense of cultural understanding. 

READ MORE: "Ray Rice Cut From Ravens: Violent Video Released, Fans React

Ray Rice's casual attitude about punching his then, fiancé and now, wife raises questions surrounding everyday violence that is normalized within predominately black environments and black families

I don't mean the street violence perpetuated in television and film, instead, I am referring to the fighting used to prove one’s “street cred” and the common practice known as corporal punishment (which has been somewhat of a tradition in black households). 

As a black woman from an affluent, predominately white community, I went to "PWI's" or predominately white institutions. At my all-girls high school, gossip, backstabbing and "I just can't be friends anymore," were methods of social ostracism used instead of physical fights. The few girls who did swing bottles at people and scrap at each others ear lobes were black and latina. It was no coincidence that these girls identified  with communities of color, because in many working class black and latin communities, fighting is encouraged as a way “ to not seem a bitch” when “shit goes down.” In some neighborhoods, people even watch male dogs "fight over the bitch" for entertainment. I, however, wouldn't get my first taste of the excitement surrounding (black-on-black) fighting until my first year of college.

Before coming to USC, I spent a year at a historically black, all-women’s college in Atlanta, GA. I would hear about girls (from rough hoods) constantly getting in scrappy fights because “one of them had been talking shit.” Regardless of what actually happened, trying to knock someone’s door down until they finally answered, chasing and tackling them and then beating them up in a freshman dorm, is pretty barbaric. 

But the hard chick from the Bronx (who always had to mention that she was from the Bronx) took so much pride in using her fists to instill the fear of God in other women, maybe because someone once did the same to her back home.  

What was even more disappointing, was listening to some of my classmates joke about memories of when "their mama would give 'em whoopings or the belt." Every person laughed while recounting the details of "being swatched" with a belt or "gettin' it" with a twig from a cherry tree. It made being beaten or bullied by one's own parents seem like a normal part of black culture that I had (luckily) missed out on. 


In the "Spanking and Childhood Development" study directed by Elizabeth Gershoff at the University of Texas, Austin, out of 20,000 kindergarteners, 89 percent of the black children had been spanked by their parents. Scientists attribute these high rates to several factors, ranging from "the legacy of brutality left behind by slavery," and to "being disproportionately lower income and less educated." 

And the more I got to know black people from outside of my predominately white, picturesque hometown, the more I realized how rare my parent's willingness to "just talk out it" was in comparison to most black parents. 

These examples of violence affiliated with what it means to be black (and working class) in America come from a history of black Americans having to "live in defense mode." When speaking with friends who are originally from black ghettos, they often tell me that I don't know "the struggle." "The struggle" to just make it home alive, the struggle to help their parent(s) pay the rent, and mainly, the struggle to be one of the lucky ones to get out (and never look back).

READ MORE:  "Branding: It's a Black Thing, You Wouldn't Understand

While living in Atlanta, I got a sense of that feeling. The constant need to look over my shoulder, as if someone was always coming after me. Because a raging crack epidemic and gang war had recently plagued the neighborhood surrounding my school. So I was told to wear a bitter face, carry keys between my fingers and mentally prepare myself to witness, to escape or to react to violence. 

The traumatic feelings I experienced only lasted one year, but for many black Americans, like Ray Rice, escaping obscene violence and crime was just a part of growing up. And in the video footage of Rice and his wife, it looks as though his wife may have "talked back" to him.  If Rice felt threatened by his then fiancé, it wouldn't be surprising that his initial reaction would be to react with violence to "keep his woman in line," similar to that strange "to knock a b*tch out" or "to paddle their child." Especially considering the fact that this sort of behavior has been excercised on black women by slave masters since the colonial era. However, "The Negro Man" was forced to watch helplessly, to be "broken like a horse."

The frustration (working class) black men feel about having to submit their freedom to white, elite power structures are taken out on black women and children. Even worse, some black men use methods of (colonial) corporal punishment to "set women straight" and discipline their children. 

The (black) academics who choose to expose (black) cultural phenomenon that reinforce elements of the plantation mentality are likely to be ignored by their (black) peers. Though black Americans seem to value respect and tradition more than anything else, it's time that our "tradition" of beating the living sh*t out of our closest loved ones be re-evaluated.  

Reach Contributor Maya Richard-Craven here



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