An Honest Conversation About Race (Through Hip-Hop) Part Five: Environment & Child Maltreatment

FEAR. – Kendrick Lamar

Though we went on and on about the significance of the genetic factors affecting the conditions of African Americans in the previous section, it was not at all to make light of the environmental factors. We do not dispute their importance; only their form and origin. They are not the memes of slavery and Jim Crow, but more likely childhoods marred by parental violence, caprice and neglect. 

Drawing on the quantum mechanical phenomena of his childhood and adolescence, Kendrick Lamar deftly articulates what life is like for the majority of black kids in the hood; describing the kind of upbringing most all of us intuitively understand will lead to emotional turmoil and personal dysfunction, to failure and underachievement. 

Typically, the writer does not give much credence to such accolades—mostly out of spite—but, in this case, we grant that Lamar more than deserved the Pulitzer Prize he received for his 2018 album, DAMN. We can vividly recall listening to “FEAR.” for the first time—high as a celestial kite flown by Almighty God Himself—and immediately recognizing it as a testament to his status as a truly gifted artist. 

What struck us about the song was its unabashed and candid portrayal of the oppressive and neglectful relationship black parents often have with their children; a motif hardly expressed in rap. 

In its first verse, Lamar puts his momma on blast by recreating the threats and accusations she had barked at him as a kid: 

“I beat yo’ ass, keep talkin’ back

I beat yo’ ass, who bought you that?

You stole it, I beat yo’ ass if you say that game is broken

I beat yo’ ass if you jump on my couch

I beat yo’ ass if you walk in this house

With tears in your eyes, runnin’ from Poo Poo and Prentice

Go back outside, I beat yo’ ass, lil’ nigga

That homework better be finished, I beat yo’ ass

Your teachers better not be bitchin’ ’bout you in class

That pizza better not be wasted, you eat it all

That TV better not be loud if you got it on

Them Jordans better not get dirty when I just bought ’em

Better not hear ’bout you humpin’ on Keisha’s daughter

Better not hear you got caught up

I beat yo’ ass, you better not run to your father

I beat yo’ ass, you know my patience runnin’ thin

I got buku payments to make

County building’s on my ass, tryna take my food stamps away

I beat yo’ ass if you tell them social workers he live here

I beat yo’ ass if I beat yo’ ass twice and you still here

Seven years old, think you run this house by yourself?

Nigga, you gon’ fear me if you don’t fear no one else”

Peruse some of the statistics, you will discover that black parents, particularly mothers, do have a predilection for maltreating and even killing their children. African American children experience the second highest rates of child maltreatment. 13.8 per 1,000 following the American Indian and Alaska Natives’ 14.8 per 1,000. They outdo all other groups in terms of child fatality. The rate of 5.06 per 100,000 black children killed in 2019 is over twice that of whites (2.3 times more,) and nearly triple that of Hispanics (2.7 times more.) 

Associations between negative experiences in childhood and criminality, and poor physical and mental health have long been established. Still all within-the-pale discussions regarding black malfeasance and dereliction, do the electric slide over the counterproductive and, frankly, immoral things black parents do to their children. Or, as in the case of Toya Graham, single mother of six—at the time—for who knows how many she has got now—she could be up or down some—praise is heaped upon them for their mistaken attempts at rectifying earlier mistakes.

  The best explanations for these harrowing correlations probe into how trauma affects the developing brains of children. According to Dr. Martin H. Teicher, director of the Developmental Biopsychiatry Research Program at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts: 

“Society reaps what it sows in nurturing its children.”

We suppose Kendrick Lamar is the exception which proves the rule. Were he to be given an adverse childhood experience (ACE) questionnaire, between his father’s cocaine use, his auntie’s crack habit, his alcoholic grandfather, and the whuppins he got from his mother, Lamar would register an ACE score of at least three. 

“Whether abuse of a child is physical, psychological, or sexual, it sets off a ripple of hormonal changes that wire the child’s brain to cope with a malevolent world. It predisposes the child to have a biological basis for [FEAR.,] though he may act and pretend otherwise. Early abuse molds the brain to be more irritable, impulsive, suspicious, and prone to be swamped by fight-or-flight reactions that the rational mind may be unable to control.”

Dr. Teicher set out to find the physiological nexus between child abuse, abnormal brain development, and social dysfunction; demonstrating that trauma washes the growing brain with stress hormones, arresting the progress of the left hemisphere, left corpus callosum, left hippocampus, and cerebellar vermis towards maturation. Because these structures are responsible for verbal reasoning, memory recall, and emotional and attentional balance, retardation of their development can manifest in psychopathology.

Depression is linked to impediments in the left frontal lobe. Anxiety disorders and ADHD to substandard cerebellar vermis and corpus callosum function. Disintegration between the brain’s hemispheres is speculated to play a role in borderline personality disorder.  

Being given to low impulse control and seeking to compensate for neurological deficiencies, abused children are prone to adopting habits that lead to poor health. Among those are drug addiction, promiscuity, smoking, and overeating. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2021 National Health Statistics Reports show that blacks have higher rates of hypertension, ordinary and severe obesity, serious heart disease, asthma, and chronic kidney disease. They are only beaten—no pun intended—in rates of diabetes and COPD, respectively, by Hispanics and whites. Blacks between the ages of 15 and 19 are more likely to have engaged in sexual intercourse than their Hispanic and white counterparts, and are more likely to have unwanted or mistimed pregnancies.  

Whup, a term that literally means to beat as a form of punishment, but sounds pleasant enough to serve as a euphemism for it, is only one vowel change away from being the word whip. It is doubtful that Antebellum plantation owners could have, with the whips we are told they routinely put to the backs of their slaves, done anything approximating the levels of damage black parents now do with the lashes of their tongues, belts and switches. 

Tangentially, going down on a massive, rock-hard limb, we propose that the slight variation in rates of homosexuality between the races may also suggest disparities in incidence of child abuse. In the section of Matt Ridley’s The Red Queen entitled “The Causes of Male Homosexuality,” he explores evidence for the link between prenatal stress and homosexuality in men. 

Ridley explains that differences between the male and female brain, and therefore human sexual preference, are mediated by hormonal exposure in utero. Babies that get adequate waves of T turn out as straight males or dyke bitches. Those that get estrogen baths tend to be straight females or effeminate, gay males. 

In light of this dynamic, it is put forth in the book that male fetuses exposed to excess cortisol—the infamous stress hormone—receive insufficient doses of aromzatized testosterone, because prior to activating estrogen receptors in the developing brain responsible for the instantiation of opposite sex preferences, testosterone must be converted into estradiol. Both the syntheses of cortisol and estradiol are dependent upon the presence of cholesterol, therefore more cortisol means less cholesterol to be used for the conversion of testosterone.

According to a 2012 Gallup survey, wherein over 121,000 Americans were asked whether or not they self-identified as LGBT, 4.6 percent of blacks answered in the affirmative compared to 4.3 percent of Asians, four percent of Hispanics, and 3.6 percent of whites.

Albeit somewhat conspiratorial, perhaps this is why Black Lives Matter, in its efforts to “affirm the lives of [b]lack queer and trans folks,” wants to do away with the nuclear family. Vulnerable black kids and mothers means more maggots, martyrs, and money to line its founders’ purportedly proletarian pockets.  

If alleged homophobe and rapper DaBaby were really with the shits, he would join forces with somebody like Jesse Lee Petersen to help rebuild black character and families. 

BLM and others has demonstrated that assigning culpability for the erosion of black lives to slavery, Jim Crow, and the scary white ghost of White Supermacy can be very lucrative. It does not address the extant internal problem, but there are immense financial gains to be had by agitating to be made whole from self-inflicted damages. Reparations are the ultimate form of remedy and revenge for the clamouring victims. Depending on the means of wealth redistribution (which range from individual and household lump sum payouts to black baby bond trust accounts) the estimated cost of a reparations program is between $100 billion and $12 trillion. 

It has been calculated by the CDC that each victim of child abuse can leave society with a bill as large $210,000; attributable to lost taxable earnings, welfare, as well as healthcare and judicial and penal costs. Any given year for which one has access to child maltreatment statistics, will show that African Americans children typically account for at least a quarter of the 800,000 or more victims. Since some victims will undoubtedly show up in these stats more than once before reaching the age of majority, it is unfair to add up the toll society has incurred from every black child victim from 1995 to 2019. Nevertheless, it may be illustrative to point out that the tally of a single year amounts to $42 billion. Even if somebody much sharper than the writer could come up with a way of controlling for the recurring victims, he would still find that black families have already squandered much of any of their illegitimate claims to reparations.

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