A radical black journalist who holds white people responsible for the origins of child abuse spoke at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville on Tuesday despite three academic departments pulling support at the last minute.
Stacey Patton titled her lecture “How Killing Black Children is an American Tradition.” Finding the title too provocative, the School of Journalism and Electronic Media, the College of Communication and Information and the College of Child and Family Studies, pulled funding from the speech on Feb. 22, according to the Daily Beacon, the student newspaper. Patton retained the support of several other departments and was introduced at the lecture by the vice chair of Africana Studies.
Catherine Luther, director of the College of Journalism and Electronic Media, was quoted in the Daily Beacon as saying the title was not announced until after support was given. She said the title hurt the message, which warrants discussion. Luther said that many Americans have fought to end racial hatred and that “if we relegate killing black children to the position of being ‘an American tradition,’ does that really help us to move toward change?”
Patton, a journalism professor at Morgan University in Baltimore and author of the upcoming book Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Black Children Won’t Save Black America, lashed out at Luther on social media Thursday. On her own Facebook page, Patton wrote, “Seriously, this woman is really itching for a slow and surgical wig snatching. I have exercised so much restraint.” Patton also criticized the writer of the Daily Beacon article about the lecture saying it contained “botched quotes.” However, videos she posted of the lecture on her Facebook page reflect that the writer of the article fairly captured the gist of her speech.
Patton’s lecture featured a mix of poignant pleas for greater concern about the plight of black children at the hands of abusive parents and Black Lives Matter-style rhetoric about white supremacy.
Citing data from the Children’s Bureau, a federal agency, Patton showed that from 2006 through 2015, more than 3,600 black children died from maltreatment. Most of the abuse was carried out by black women age 40 and under, Patton said. She said black children are abused and killed at a rate three times greater than any other ethnic or racial group.
At one point, Patton said that blacks “use fear of the police, we use racism to disguise our cruelty.” But for the most part, she blamed whites for the abusive environments black children face.
Child abuse “was not native to the cultures of our West African ancestors prior to their contact with Europeans, prior to the Middle Passage, prior to hundreds of years of slavery and colonialism and a violent introduction to a bastardized version of Christianity,” she said. She said the origins of child abuse can be traced to ancient Greece and that brutality also characterized the Middle Ages in Europe.
“Long before the first Europeans landed on this continent to build a so-called Christian nation, they had grown accustomed to doling out sexual and physical violence against their own children, whom the regarded as savages,” she said. That brutality was then transferred to other cultures through colonialism and slavery, she said, adding that white people began treating their own children better as a way to mark them as “potential inheritors of civilization” in contrast to the people they were enslaving.
Patton said the Puritans were “crazy” and were “beating each other, torturing kids in the public square and killing the Native Americans.” She said indigenous people on this continent, like those in West Africa, did not practice child abuse themselves until they were influenced by Europeans.
As for the present day, Patton spoke as if not much has changed since slavery and Jim Crow. “When you are a people under siege, when you fear for your own life and the life of your child, it is easy to misconstrue cruelty as love and protection,” she said. “Far too many of us believe the generational lie that a good whupping strengthens a black child, prepares them for the harsh realities of being black in America.”
While white people have been guilty of abusing children, during some time periods more than others, Patton’s assertions about mistreatment originating with white people can be easily refuted with minimal research into what other scholars have written about the past. Slavery was practiced among tribes in Africa before European colonialism and Africans were later involved in selling their own people, children included, to white slave traders. The racial dimension of slavery has also been misrepresented, some scholars say. In his 2004 book Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800, historian Robert Davis tells the story of more than one million European adults and children who were forced to work in North Africa during that period. In a media interview in 2004, Davis said, “One of the things that both the public and many scholars have tended to take as given is that slavery was always racial in nature — that only blacks have been slaves. But that is not true.” As for the Americas, ritualistic killings of both adults and children before the arrival of Europeans have been well documented.
Patton is no stranger to controversy over her commentary on race. In July, she criticized Hillary Clinton in a Washington Post column for saying that everyone must come together to stop racial division. “Clinton’s call for everyone to ‘do the work’ to unite against hatred overlooks the fundamental fact that it’s whites — and only whites — who must work to fix the racist structures in our society,” Patton wrote. In a piece in November for Dame Magazine titled “Why I Have No Sympathy for Angry White Men,” Patton called President Trump a racist and sexist who exploits the rage of white men.
In recent days, President Trump has signed an executive order supporting historically black colleges and a pair of bills designed to recruit more women into careers in science, technology, engineering and math.