Belts and Bruises: How Physical Abuse Can Shape The Identities of POC

One thing I constantly see across Twitter is the sharing between POC of stories of their worse a** beatings and what tools were used to do so. I’ve seen sandals, rulers, switches, branches, pans, belts, and more, shared in this sense of solidarity as we all cackle over what got us into trouble.

I’ve laughed along too, even at relatable (although exaggerated) videos like this one, reminiscing in the times I’d fight back my tears until my face turned as red as the belt marks left on my body.

We all see normalcy in this act, in our parents, beating us as discipline, and when a White person responds with confusion we roast them and say, “this is why wypipo don’t know how to act.” As people of color joke about this daily, we are losing sight of the seriousness behind the culture of corporal punishment and emotional abuse in our lives.

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I recently saw a video on YouTube where Asian Youtuber Jimmy Zhang interviewed other Asian-Americans he came across in public and asked them “what’s the worst a** whopping you’ve ever gotten?” and even “what methods and tools did they use?” The answers varied, one guy saying his parents’ bought packs of bamboo sticks to hit him with, another guy saying he was told to hold his hands up and stare at his hands. They even went into if they ever fought back, and one girl interviewed said, “no, if you did that would be disrespectful.”

Despite me not being Asian, I was able to relate to the entire video. I’ve been chased around the house by my parents, belt in hand, I’ve had other friends tell stories of the same thread, about the same fear they felt of the oh-so-scary belt, and then we laugh it off. But why do we normalize this? Why should this type of physical and emotional abuse become a social norm among people of color, and when this generation of “millennials” become parents, will we continue it with our children?

I have always thought physical punishment as a child was normal, and was one of the most effective ways to get a kid to listen and never do their wrongs again, and for me, this is what separated me from a lot of the White kids I was around growing up. They’d get texts about, “be home by curfew,” and me and other POCs would have to first, build up the courage to ask to go out, then make sure our chores are done before we leave the house, and there’s no curfew once we leave, we just knew we had to be back home before late or the a** beating would ensue.

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Even now, I see videos of Black YouTubers gathering with friends and thinking of what it was like living in a Black or African household where beatings were the expected punishment. In seeing the consistency in this form of punishment among POC and their childhoods, I’m reminded of the words by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

In this excerpt from his book “Between the World and Me” (which I highly recommend), he writes, “When I was 6, Ma and Dad took me to a local park. I slipped from their gaze and found a playground. Your grandparents spent anxious minutes looking for me. When they found me, Dad did what every parent I knew would have done—he reached for his belt. I remember watching him in a kind of daze, awed at the distance between punishment and offense. Later, I would hear it in Dad’s voice—‘Either I can beat him, or the police.’ Maybe that saved me. Maybe it didn’t. All I know is, the violence rose from the fear like smoke from a fire, and I cannot say whether that violence, even administered in fear and love, sounded the alarm or choked us at the exit.”

This fear of a non-White child competing and living in a White society is what’s really behind our parents disciplining us in this harsh way. For Asian families, it’s the expectation of living up to the ridiculous model minority myth, but for Black or Hispanic families, there’s the fear that our darker skin will be an automatic marker for danger, so we must behave to remove attention from ourselves, and for children of immigrants alike, the punishment is driven out of need for their children to succeed in the racist and undermining Western countries they look for opportunities in.

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I’m not saying that living in an overwhelmingly White populated and controlled country is the sole reason behind the use of corporal punishment in families of color, but it is a large factor.

But, when we as the younger generation normalize this behavior, and think nothing of it, it feels like a disservice to future children, and as an acceptance of abuse in general. Not only is it already true that POC have a large stigma around mental health and treatment, but in an article from Today, it explains that children who have been spanked or hit as punishment have more mental health issues down the line and find it harder to find success and have a positive self image. A 2001 article from the Online Journal of the International Child and Youth Care Network, says that using this type of physical punishment on a child not only reinforces the idea that physical action is what to use when you want to get a desired result, but it also just allows the child to “focus on how to not get caught,” rather than to not do the wrong behavior again.

With this possible outcome of mental health effects, combined with the high expectations created by parents of color who want their children to learn to live in a White and Westernized society, this creates an even larger dilemma for the child at hand. They have to both live with the fact that they may have to work twice as hard in a setting compared to their White peers, but they have to behave strictly to the educational, and social expectations of their parents, all the while hiding their own mental stress.

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I think our responsibility (even if the memes are hilarious) is to be aware of the effects that these types of punishments have on us as adults later on, and also, make sure that as POC, we take care of our mental health too.

Nia Tucker is a current undergrad at the University of Rochester, trying to study things that she can use to make the world a less terrible place. She’s a Capricorn who likes beauty, writing, activism, and Beyonce…but mostly Beyonce.

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