The implication of those messages was that to be black and a philosopher was a contradiction.
I was only a pre-school Negro boy growing up in Jim Crow-segregated St. Louis, Mo., when my sainted mother, Rosetta, gathered me close and reported, “The best school for Negroes in St. Louis is Vashon High School.” So it didn’t mean much to me.
I would not learn of the greatness of the Vashon name in ensuing decades until nearly 10 years after my arrival in Pittsburgh in 1999 — by way of St. Louis, New York City and Syracuse.
All the same, 2017 marks the 225th anniversary of the 1792 birth of seaman, veteran, war hero, prisoner of war, abolitionist, businessman and, very significantly, Pittsburgher John Bathan Vashon. Active in Pittsburgh from 1829 until the early 1850s, Mr. Vashon was one of the most accomplished Western Pennsylvanians of his day or, for that matter, any day. That he carried the status of African-American renders his achievements all the more astonishing.
Moreover, Mr. Vashon was a hero long before his arrival in Pittsburgh from Carlisle, Pa., and even before his arrival in Carlisle from the War of 1812 and from his native Norfolk, Va.
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This is the second in a series of dialogues with philosophers on violence for The Stone. This conversation is with George Yancy, a professor of philosophy at Emory University and author, editor, co-editor of many books, including “Look, a White!” — Brad Evans
Brad Evans: In response to a series of troubling verbal attacks you recently received following your essay in The Stone in December, “Dear White America,” the American Philosophical Association put out a strongly worded statement criticizing the bullying and harassment of academics in the public realm. But beyond this, shouldn’t we address the broader human realities of such hateful speech, and in particular, how this sort of discursive violence directly impacts the body of the person attacked?
George Yancy: Your point about discursive violence is an important one. Immediately after the publication of “Dear White America,” I began to receive vile and vitriolic white racist comments sent to my university email address, and verbal messages sent to my answering machine. I even received snail mail that was filled with hatred. Imagine the time put into actually sitting down and writing a letter filled with so much hate and then sending it snail mail, especially in our world of the Internet.
The alarming reality is that the response to “Dear White America” revealed just how much racism continues to exist in our so-called post-racial America. The comments were not about pointing out fallacies in my position, but were designed to violate, to leave me psychologically broken and physically distraught.
Words do things, especially words like “nigger,” or being called an animal that should go back to Africa or being told that I should be “beheaded ISIS style.” One white supremacist message sent to me ended with “Be Prepared.” Another began with “Dear Nigger Professor.”
The brutality and repetitiveness of this discursive violence has a way of inflicting injury. Given the history of the term “nigger,” it strikes with the long, hate-filled context of violence out of which that term grew. This points to the non-spectacular expression of violence. The lynching of black people was designed to be a spectacle, to draw white mobs. In this case, the black body was publicly violated. It was a public and communal form of bloodlust. There are many other forms of violence that are far more subtle, non-spectacular, but yet painful and dehumanizing. So, when I was called a “nigger,” I was subject to that. I felt violated, injured; a part of me felt broken.
Only now have I really begun to recognize how discourse designed to hurt can actually leave its mark. I recall after reading so many of these messages I began to feel sick, literally. So, words can debilitate, violate, injure; they can hit with the force of a stick or a stone and leave marks on the body. In this case, I began to feel the posture of my body folding inward, as it were, under the attacks. Franz Fanon talks about this as not being able to move lithely in the world.
B.E.: How does this relate to the intellectual history of racial persecution, oppression and subordination, especially the denial of the right of black people, and specifically black intellectuals, to speak with their own voice in a public setting?
G.Y.: I shared some of the malicious discourse used against me with some very prominent white public intellectuals. We began to exchange experiences. The exchange was helpful to me; it helped me to understand what is at stake when engaging in courageous speech. What was immediately clear, though, was the absence of specifically racist vitriol directed at these white public intellectuals, which in no way downplays their pain. Yet we must bring attention to the difference, to the perils of being a black intellectual. Not only was I being attacked for my courageous speech; I was being attacked as a black man. Yet I was also being attacked as a black philosopher.
There were some very nasty remarks that were designed to question my status as a philosopher because I’m black. The implication of those messages was that to be black and a philosopher was a contradiction, because “niggers” can’t be philosophers. So, I agree; the discourse was far more pernicious. But to understand this is to come to terms with the history of white violence in this country used to control and silence black people.
To see my experience as a single episode or an anomaly is to deny the logic of the long history of white racist violence. bell hooks recalls that as a child she thought of whiteness as a site of terror. In a country in which white people would brutalize and kill a black person on a whim, that is far from irrational.
For centuries, black people lived in fear of white terror. That fear partly captures the contradiction of being black and an American. Black people were not the American “we,” but the terrorized other. The symbols of white sheets and cross burnings must be recalled. Think here of black World War II veterans who returned home from the war and were severely beaten and lynched by whites, even as they wore their uniforms. They fought against Hitler only to return home, to the land of “democracy,” to be attacked by what might be called white terrorists.
Or think here of the slave trade, the institution of American slavery, black codes, convict leasing, the lynching of black men and women and the flaying of black flesh, the castration of black men, being burned alive. Violence, within these contexts, is a specific racialized form of inculcating black people with fear and controlling their social mobility. There is nothing episodic about it; this form of white violence is historically grounded and systematic.
The coldhearted use of white violence was very effective. Not only were there actual beatings, there was the fear of possibly being beaten. So, the black imagination, though never defeated, was weakened. The lynching of a black person wasn’t just a form of theater (where the root meaning suggests a kind of “beholding”), but a way of communicating fear and terror through mass displays of violence. For someone white, the spectacle was a sport, a kind of national pastime activity, but for a black person, one could always imagine that one was next, and thereby stand in fear of what could happen at any moment.
Cornel West talks about the “death shudder” as a kind of existential moment of realization that one is finite. I think that we are all open to experience that dreadful sense of our existence coming to an end. However, when black life is forever in a “state of exception,” it is an additional weight. Black people not only experience the death shudder, but a specific kind of shudder that involves an emotional intensity that speaks to the disposability of black life.
For example, the other day, a white police officer walked into a store where I was buying some food and I remember feeling this powerful sense of wanting to flee, of feeling as if the rules and laws that are designed to govern our (white) society didn’t apply to me. I could move “too quickly,” placing my hand into my pocket to pay for my food, and my life would end just like that. The white police officer would explain how he felt “threatened” and had “reasonable” suspicion. And I would be dead.
Read previous contributions to this series.
B.E.: These connections between the continuum of racial violence and the terrors of the everyday are crucial to understanding the normalization of humiliation and the outright denial of the most basic qualities that make people feel part of a society and “human,” as such. This demands a more serious intellectual engagement with the “marking out” of the black body as incapable of philosophical thought and deliberation. Does this make a return to thinkers such as Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon all the more relevant in the contemporary period?
G.Y.: Yes. And racial violence takes many forms and raises larger issues. For example, Judith Butler’s concern about questions of grievability is important. Racial violence is linked to forms of racial vulnerability, disposability and our tendency as a nation to grieve the deaths of certain racialized persons and not others. The disproportionate number of poor black people affected by Hurricane Katrina, or the sentencing disparities when it comes to locking up black people for nonviolent offenses, or the shooting in the back of Walter Scott by the white police officer Michael Slager are all examples of forms of racialized disposability. They speak to how black humanity is deemed of little or no human value.
The process of marking the black body as incapable of philosophical thought is longstanding. It is one of those major myths that grew out of Europe, even as Europe championed “humanism.” The poet Aimé Césaire, through immanent critique, knew that European humanism was a farce. Of course, Jean-Paul Sartre knew this as well. And Fanon knew what it was like to embody reason and have it denied to him. In “Black Skin, White Masks,” he argued that when he was present, reason was not, and when reason was present he was no longer. So, one might argue that reason and black embodiment, from this perspective, are mutually exclusive. And yet, at the end of that text, Fanon says, “My final prayer: O my body, make me always a man who questions!”
Fanon appeals to something that is beyond abstract political rights discourse. He appeals to his own body, something concrete and immediate. Fanon asks of his body not to allow him to be seduced by forms of being-in-the-world that normalize violence and dehumanization. Doubt can be linked to critique. In a society that hides beneath the seductions of normalization, critique is undesirable and deemed dangerous. Yet in our contemporary moment, the fulfillment of Fanon’s prayer is desperately needed.
America needs a movement that transcends the civil rights movement.
These examples are manifestations of a racialized, selective misanthropy. This is why I have such a negative visceral reaction to Donald Trump’s promises to build a wall along the Mexican border. That discourse is one of labeling certain bodies as “unwanted,” “deviant,” “sub-persons.” And to say that Mexico is sending “rapists” to the United States is a form of deep insult, of marking certain bodies as violent and pathological. Trump is, sadly, able to play on the racist biases and fears in many white people. It is a divisive tactic that exploits both latent and manifest bigoted assumptions in many white Americans. It is not by accident that David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the K.K.K., supports him.
B.E.: As you point out, a conceptualization of political rights must also include the right for the marginalized to critique power. Does philosophical inquiry have to do with the ways we might reconceptualize the meaning of rights, especially considering that the denial of persons’ humanity often occurs within normative legal frameworks?
G.Y.: Absolutely. After all, slavery, which was a vicious, death-dealing and violent institution, was legal. I think that rights-based discourse is necessary, but there is this sense in which rights can be given and, by implication, taken away. Within this context, I think that America needs a movement that transcends the civil rights movement. Applicative justice might be necessary, but not sufficient. Imagine a scenario where justice is being applied across the board, and the rights of people are being upheld. In a country like ours, saturated by racism, that scenario might still involve blacks being hated, seen as “inferior,” as sub-“persons.” In such a world, white people can continue to insulate themselves from the “others.”
We are desperately in need of a movement that shakes us at the very core of how we think about ourselves as individuals, masters of our own destiny. While this isn’t philosophically fashionable, I want to know what it means to love with courage. What would it mean to make love an integral feature of moral reasoning, the kind of love that risks profound ways of being mutually vulnerable, of placing no limits on who we call our neighbors? This means radically changing how we currently relate to one another. I recall when we killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 that there were Americans who were cheering. As unpatriotic as some will say I’m being, we must keep in mind that bin Laden was someone’s son, father and husband.
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This speaks to the limits of our moral imagination as a nation. Can you imagine President Obama saying at a press conference that he is sorry that we killed bin Laden, that we loved him as a human being despite his violence? Can you imagine what would happen if Israelis and Palestinians were to cease their “peace” talks and radically deploy a discourse of love? Imagine the many whites who read “Dear White America” saying to me: “We return the love to you that you’ve shared with us!” I think that we are an impoverished nation when it comes to loving our “enemies.” God bless America is an empty politicized gesture if we are not also saying God bless our “enemies.”
B.E.: There is an ethical aspect to “Dear White America” — particularly the honest reflections put forward regarding your own prejudices and fallibilities when it comes to relations of power. While a critique of violence demands attention to historical forces of domination and exploitation, it also asks how each of us shamefully compromise with power, often against our better judgments.
A critique of violence must include an understanding that one doesn’t escape the many ways in which one perpetuates violence
GY: Yes. This raises the issue of complicity. As I discussed in the essay, there are ways in which I have been shaped to believe that looking at women with a dominating gaze or desiring women only for sexual pleasure is “normal.” Yet it is this process of “normalization” that produces a kind of “walking dead” mentality where many of my social practices (sexual desire being one, fixed gender role expectations being another) support the oppression of women. The process of normalization is often so effective that there isn’t much resistance coming from one’s “better judgment,” especially as one’s better judgment has already been defined by the terms of normalization.
In this case, one’s “better judgment” has already been compromised, has already become an extension of the power of normalization. Your use of the term shameful is important. Shame implies a powerful sense of disgrace. It is not limited to the assignment of blame, which is more like guilt. Shame suggests the sense of disrupting one’s ethical “certainty,” or business as usual. After all, one can be guilty without ever feeling shame. So, violence, for me, has to be attended to at those levels where we are going about our business as if we are not doing violence to other individuals.
The fact that we don’t hear cries of pain doesn’t let us off the hook. Ethical discourse and practice must be imbued with an effort to remain honest, especially about one’s own ethical shortcomings and the pain and suffering that we cause others.
A critique of violence must include an understanding that one doesn’t escape the many ways in which one perpetuates violence — violence against those who we may never see face to face, violence against those who are closest to us, violence against the earth, and perhaps even violence against one’s own sense of self-integrity.
Violence is all around us. Yet we prefer to remain asleep — the walking dead. For me, personally, the more I become aware of the magnitude of violence in our world, what many of us would rather deny or not see, the more I enter into that space of the “dark night of the soul,” a place where dread and hopelessness reside. The objective, though, is to continue, to remain awake, to keep fighting for a better world even as one endures the dark night of the soul.Post Views: 57
Written by Jim Clingman March 19th, 2016
While Black people are bogged down in shallow and meaningless political discourse, our vaunted Black organizations continue to be M.I.A. except for their time in front of the cameras with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. They say they cannot endorse candidates, but we all know that’s a sham.
In an article written by Freddie Allen, of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, Marc Morial said the nine Black organizations that met with the candidates wanted to “provide to every candidate who is running for president of the United States, be they Republican or Democrat, the opportunity to hear from us on issues of civil rights, social justice, and economic justice in America, today.” Any real demands made on our behalf?
Al Sharpton said, “For the first time in American history, we will watch a Black family leave the White House and we do not want to see the concerns of Blacks leave with them.” So that’s where our concerns have been hibernating for the past seven years; and all this time I thought Sharpton and the POTUS were taking care of them.
And, I suppose to give comfort to Clinton and Sanders, Morial said the nine historic civil rights organizations represent tens of millions of Americans and that all of their organizations were “multicultural and multi-ethnic.” Multi-cultural and multi-ethnic? That’s strange; I thought they were Black or at least “colored.”
Speaking of colored, let’s look at one of these “Black” multi-cultural/ethnic organizations. In case you missed the cryptic message at the beginning of this article, “Nonstop Aiding and Abetting in Corrupt Practices,” think about the NAACP. You may know it as the group whose answer to the Ferguson issue was to walk 130 miles to the Missouri Governor’s office, followed up by a 1,000 mile stroll from Selma to the steps of the U.S. Capitol in search of justice. Guess they didn’t find it when they got there.
This is the group that practices outright hypocrisy by railing against voter suppression and voter ID laws, while accepting and even promoting those corrupt practices within their own ranks. More specifically, this is the group that has wreaked havoc in Ohio by conducting four elections for State President, two of which were legitimately won by Jocelyn Travis over Sybil McNabb, and two of which were do-overs by the national office via its henchman, Gill Ford, to keep their chosen candidate, McNabb, in office.
In the first corrupt election over which the national office presided, children were allowed to vote for McNabb—yes, children! In the second corrupt election, which just took place on March 12, 2016, again under national supervision, the same corrupt practice used in Cincinnati was used by Gill Ford in Columbus. He suspended Travis three days prior to the election, just as he did the Cincinnati president, whom he suspended the day before the election in an obvious effort to have his chosen candidate run unopposed.
The NAACP’s “Nonstop Aiding and Abetting in Corrupt Practices” is shameful, especially in light of holding themselves up as the national champion for fairness in the voting process. Even more shameful is the fact that only a relative few members, among those who have actually seen these shenanigans take place, are willing to stand up against the NAACP’s corruption.
The good news is that a group of members throughout Ohio have followed the lead of the Crittenden County (Arkansas) and Cincinnati branches by seeking and winning a Temporary Restraining Order against the NAACP’s continued interference in local elections. The results of the March 12th election are being held in abeyance by a Columbus, Ohio judge, who will conduct a hearing on April 7, 2016. You can be sure that all evidence of corruption, voter suppression, and election-rigging will be brought forth at that time.
Aside from the obvious hypocrisy displayed by the national leadership of the NAACP, not only in this case but in several other branches across the country, their corrupt practices also point to a larger problem. So-called Black organizations like the NAACP, despite their implied social contract with Black folks, can be swayed, bought, rented, or leased with nothing expected in return except a few dollars under the table, a political photo-op, or a nice hotel suite. The NAACP needs to stop abusing its members’ rights before purporting to speak on our behalf.
As for nine Black organizations suggesting they are the repository of Black power, here’s a question: If they have power, why after nearly eight years of a Black President are we, as cited in Morial’s State of Black America Report, worse off now and in “crisis”? As the heads of those organizations now intercede on our behalf, by meeting with presidential candidates, what would make us believe Blacks will get anything specific from the next administration?Post Views: 48
Trauma and Poverty Alters the Brains of Black People, and It Will Take Black Institutions to Stop It
By David A Love
The shame is not ours. That holds true of the horrors and the trauma of the Middle Passage, and the toll it exacted on the bodies and psyches of African people. And that applies to the continued racial oppression, the deprivation and the economic, physical and mental violence to which Black people are subjected every day. While white society has told Black people that their “problems” are of their own making, a result of their moral failures and lack of work ethic, white America promoted this false narrative by punishing Black folks through public policy.
What if the shame is indeed not ours? What if neuroscience, the study of the brain, can make sense of the effect of trauma on the very minds and behaviors of Black families, adults and children? What if white supremacy takes its toll on the health and development of our minds, not just in a philosophical, political or cultural sense, but from a medical and scientific standpoint?
If the problem is one that Black people face, then Black institutions will solve it. For the first time, two African-American organizations — a health services agency and a fraternity — are teaming up to address the neuroscience of poverty and the impact of trauma on the Black mind and behavior.
The Columbus (Ohio) Area Integrated Health Services, Inc. (CAIHS) and the Columbus Kappa Foundation, Inc. — part of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity — have formed a partnership called the Global Life Chances Initiative. The project will provide services, education and outreach to Black families hit the hardest by infant mortality, educational under-performance and economic dislocation. Further, through a concept known as the neuroscience of poverty, the initiative will address prevention and repair of Black people traumatized and damaged by economic deprivation and exploitation and the toll poverty has on the brain.
The concept represents a bold and innovative research approach. Past studies have examined inter-generational trauma and post-traumatic slave syndrome, and the ways in which the psychic damage of enslavement, genocide and other forms of oppression can be passed down through generations.
A recent Newsweek article addressed how poverty impacts the brain. Specifically, it said that “poverty, and the conditions that often accompany it — violence, excessive noise, chaos at home, pollution, malnutrition, abuse and parents without jobs — can affect the interactions, formation and pruning of connections in the young brain.”
“This is an important initiative for this historically African-American mental health organization. For decades, we have witnessed clients that our agency has provided services for suffer from trauma and issues that professionals have found difficult to treat,” Penn told Atlanta Black Star. “When you look at the high rate of infant mortality in Columbus, the parents that are impacted by high infant mortality, there is a large [amount of] depression and need for support to those families.”
Penn added that it is important for the African-American community to move beyond these long-term issues that hold our community back.
As Nate Jordan II, President of the Columbus Kappa Foundation, Inc. noted, the new initiative will be based in the Mount Vernon section of Columbus, where the Kappa House is located. Jordan told Atlanta Black Star that Mount Vernon is “one of the most economically depressed areas from redlining. A lot of abandoned housing, all of the detrimental things are exemplified in these housing areas.”
“In Ohio, the Black infant mortality rate is 48th in the country. In Columbus, the Kappa House is in [an area with] one of the highest infant mortality rates in Ohio, where there are seven hot zones” for infant mortality, he added. Jordan noted that the Kappas became involved in the Global Life Chances Initiative through their engagement in infant mortality, safe sleeping issues and matters concerning Black fatherhood.
“We also looked at the father missing out of the family unit and how the father can make a big difference from an infant mortality standpoint…even when the baby is still in the placenta, having the father acting from a nurturing standpoint,” he said.
Jordan also mentioned the Kappa’s Nurturing Fathers program, an evidence-based, 13-week program in California that improves life chances for children and puts fathers back into the lives of their families. A group of 10-16 fathers receives services and education around their relationships with their child, the roots of fathering, nurturing, discipline without violence, anger management, nutrition, housing and other issues.
“We’re Black men showing leadership, and we already have a tremendous following. We’re politically in position, and people are looking for our leadership. So this is another example of the Kappas being on the front burner, and this model we’re putting together will be going nationwide,” Jordan noted.
For Dr. Stacy Scott, a consultant with the National Kappa Foundation’s Healthy Kappas/Healthy Communities National Initiative, this new partnership makes sense.
“I work in the infant mortality field, and we know the impact of stress on African-American women and the impact on their outcomes. We know African-American women have the highest rate of infant mortality, with 14 African-American babies dying for every 1,000 — 6 for white babies, so that is double,” Dr. Scott told Atlanta Black Star.
“We see a lot of babies who die because they are in unsafe sleeping environments,” she noted. “We are in the process of training Kappa membership to go out in the community to target specifically men on safe sleep practices for infants. It is growing; it is amazing when you start teaching men. When men are involved in prenatal care, especially in the first 3 to 4 weeks, we see how infants thrive,” Scott added.
Two issues that concern the participants in the Global Life Chances Initiative are the trust of the Black community, and the stigma over mental illness among African-Americans.
“That whole trust issue, that’s why it is so important that the partners look like the community we’re servicing,” Dr. Scott said. “A predominantly African-American membership is important because there is that mistrust. We know because of the Tuskegee fiasco,“ she noted, adding it is important “to have key people and key researchers who look like our community and build that trust so that people will not be exploited. There is such a disproportional representation of communities of color with health disparities, and it turns into an indictment of a particular group. And it is not an indictment, but reflects discrimination and segregation, and so I think it is going to be a slow-moving train” she said, noting that it all adds up to getting the message out one person at a time.
“It is a fresh new phenomenon. and the community is ready. And we are tired of ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps,’ ” Scott added. “Maybe it is not something wrong with me, and I am a victim of racism.”
“On a national level, 1 in 5 people are impacted by a mental health condition, and we know that stigma and overcoming the stigma is real. But this is an awareness campaign we are launching to understand how to reach our community, how to make service delivery culturally sensitive, to take into consideration the historic stigma our community has faced with mental health issues, and neuroscience. So, that is part of our relationship with the Kappa Foundation, a fraternity that is well respected, and we go to the grassroots and find ways to be more effective,” Penn noted. “Through education, through door-to-door outreach and having culturally competent delivery providers, we know we’re going to have more of an impact than what has been historically done.”
According to Penn, often there is a lack of understanding of how to work with the Black community. The Global Life Chances Initiative hopes to provide a blueprint for upliftment though outreach to the community and addressing a serious condition. Given “the stigma that is associated with mental health issues, I personally want to see our organization and the Kappa Foundation be the institutions that lead this movement to make it easy for families, for individuals, for people of color, so that it is easy to come in and get help when I need it, to seek treatment when I need it. I don’t need to mask and hide the symptoms; I can come in. The same way you feel comfortable calling the doctor when you have a headache, people with mental health issues can find it easy to come in and ask for help,” he said.
“When you say ‘I am not quite right,’ I can give you a reason why I am not quite right,” Dr. Scott noted of this planned research. “It does give you another tool, and if we put it out there right, people begin to get a better understanding in regards to why we are the way we are. For example, why do so many African-Americans have high blood pressure? It gives some foundations as to why the community has such plights,” she said. “If you look at the brain and things of that nature, they want to blame the victim, and the idea that if we give you a pill and some job training, you’ll be OK.”
Meanwhile, the undertaking has serious implications in the public policy realm, with the potential to change the status quo.
According to Dr. Linda James Myers, Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry and African-American Studies at The Ohio State University and Director of The Ohio State University Black Studies Extension Center in Columbus, Ohio, the neuroscience of poverty provides a social context for what is affecting the Black community. She argues that Western science, for instance, is not holistic, and fails to make the necessary connections between one’s environment and physical and mental well-being.
“A more African-centered perspective assumes that what happens in my physical environment will affect my behavior and my chemistry, and that constant stress will affect every aspect of my physiology, including the brain,” Dr. Myers told Atlanta Black Star. She added that this more holistic and integrated African-centered perspective is nothing new. Further, a holistic world view and a cultural frame of reference that was previously missing will allow us to counter the notion that poverty is the result of Black people making bad decisions.
“One of the big things that we want to concentrate on in the first phase is to educate the decision makers that make policy, allocate funding, educate them on this work that we are undertaking,” Penn said. “What is different about this partnership that does not exist anywhere else in the country is that you have a unique partnership, with an integrated strategic approach on how to lay out a plan of dealing with the history of trauma that African-Americans have dealt with for decades. We have a strategy to begin to ask the questions and explore the research on how to better serve our community,” he noted.
“We know the issues exist, and there has been a system of a continued way of treating the problem, continuing to fund a certain model, but we’re looking at how do you, with scientific data, change the direction that we find many of our young people, many of our adults, living in poverty? How do we change the infection and change the cycle? We don’t want to lead by emotion, but we want our emotion to be inspired by research. It will benefit not only our community but all communities,” Penn added, as the program will be emulated nationwide.
“White folks won’t believe it unless it is researched,” Dr. Scott suggested, offering that the program has the potential to upend policies such as the welfare system, which is based on the premise of a work ethic. People in welfare-to-work programs are set up to fail, she noted, and people are punished as if it is a reflection on them. What happens, for example, when it is discovered they cannot perform certain work functions because of trauma.
“If there is long-term impact of trauma on the brain, that debunks the whole argument,” she concluded. “It is really going to challenge the status quo, and looking at all these acts and the welfare system, you can make an impact because what they’re doing is not working, and there is going to be a lot of fallout, because people don’t like change,” Scott said. “You don’t hear them talk about research and African-Americans with regard to this theory. This might be on purpose, because we would have another tool to say we want our 40 acres and a mule.”
Once the word spreads about this new initiative, Dr. Scott believes, it is going to be phenomenal. However, she provides a warning: “We have to be very, very careful to make sure they don’t use this against us. We have to advocate, because if they think we have a brain dysfunction they will write us off. It is important to make sure advocacy groups are on the case, because it is not our fault.”
“One of the advantages with this initiative is trying to get the powers that be to see that what is different about what young Black people are experiencing in poverty today — from what young Black people experienced back in the day with chattel enslavement and sharecropping — is the role of the community, despite the poverty,” said Dr. Myers. “Now we have urban renewal, our community has been fractured and displaced, our people were placed in public housing — which is not good for our community as it produces anger and frustration — and now without the community to support and without the educational system you have complete disenfranchisement. You have dislocation and generalized depression. Instead of asking what is wrong with these young people, we should ask: What is happening and how can we change it?”
“The fact that we see the physiological change because now we have the technology to monitor it has principal benefits and also great costs. The benefits mean that Western researchers must concede that these children are in a demeaning, disenfranchising environment that affects their brain. Maybe that means we not only need early literacy but to be more holistic in what children are experiencing. That awareness is coming is a good thing. Unfortunately, it has taken a long time to come to that realization,” Dr. Myers offered. “The downside is, ‘Oh my God, these Black children are deficient.’ They are open to being stigmatized, and the Black community is going to be further disenfranchised. We have to make sure that the people engaged in the research will not go that route,” she added, noting the evidence that the condition is not irreversible. “The evidence is the 250 years Black people spent in enslavement. I can’t think of a more hostile environment. Then you see Black people emerging out of chattel slavery making all the contributions to the industrial and technological revolution,” she added.
Meanwhile, Jordan reflected on the importance of having Black organizations step up to tackle this issue in the Black community, rather than rely on white society.
“No longer can we depend on them to solve our problems. We have the expertise, the talent, the facilities and the ideas. We live this. We are the ones who have been here 400 years, and we are going to get it solved.”Post Views: 78