Race, Parenting And Punishment

The conversation, and ensuing debate, on parenting and punishment reminded me of this article from Slate which looks at income, race and frequency of spanking. Not surprisingly, black parents spank more than white parents. It's not clear whether that's because of culture, or class But one interesting side-note (that likely backs up the culture argument) is that black parents don't simply spank more, they punish more. Hence even black parents who've sworn off corporal punishment tend to be a little quicker to snatch the Nintendo DS:

It might seem like a stretch to explain spanking with economics, but what else could account for these patterns? Well, there's always culture. The very poor are disproportionately black, and blacks physically discipline their children more than whites do. But according to Weinberg, the effect of income persists even after you've controlled for race and other cultural variables.

Anyway, black parents punish their children more than white parents in all ways. If you're black and you misbehave, you're both more likely to get spanked and more likely to lose your allowance than your white neighbor, who in turn is both more likely to get spanked and more likely to lose his allowance than the Hispanic kid down the street. So on average, poor people spank more and withdraw allowances less, whereas black people spank more and withdraw allowances more. The income pattern fails to match the racial pattern, so the income pattern can't be fully explained by race.

The Hispanic portion is interesting, but I'm slightly skeptical given how broad the term "Hispanic" tends to be. I'd be very interested in the intragroup differences between families from different portions of the diaspora.

For black folks, I think it simply is the perception--rightly or wrongly--that black people (class aside) who commit transgressions are subject to higher price. This goes for everything from schoolwork, to chores, to relationships with the opposite sex. I think all parents worry about the costs of their kids bad behavior. But I think black parents carry an extra layer of worry, a sense that mistakes that other kids--especially boys--can write off as the "folly of youth" actually carry dire consequences for our kids,

I know I feel that way, and virtually every black parent I know--whether they spank or not--shares that feeling. It doesn't mean that we're all great parents. It doesn't even mean--when everything's accounted for--that we're objectively right. But beyond the basics, I don't think there's much about parenting that is objectively and absolutely right.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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