To prevent trauma in our youth, we must discuss structural inequalities - Generocity Philly

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Jun. 18, 2018 8:30 am

To prevent trauma in our youth, we must discuss structural inequalities

"The trauma of violence and racism does not just happen in large, dramatic ways, but in everyday microaggressions," writes Hopeworks 'N Camden's director of youth programs, Dannyelle Austin.

Hopeworks Camden.

(Photo via facebook.com/hopeworksyouth)

Thanks to the ever-present media and and rise in social media use, people across the economic spectrum are seeing dramatic examples of racism in our society in clear video.

We’re talking about Black men shot for no reason, youth sentenced to disproportionate sentences and customers being arrested for sitting in a coffee shop, to name a few.

Similarly, we are beginning to hear and understand the dramatic stories of our most vulnerable young people, young people who have been victimized, neglected and left out of our nation’s prosperity. Finally, science is catching up to what many of us have always known — that impact of racism, violence, poverty and neglect, if ignored, can impact the entire lifespan.

Our nation is beginning, perhaps, to have a long overdue conversation about the structural inequalities of our society.

However, as we begin to have this conversation, it is important to not just talk about the “big” incidents, or the ones that make the news.  It is important for us to remember that the trauma of violence and racism does not just happen in large, dramatic ways, but in everyday microaggressions, everyday slights, and small incidents of violence and neglect.

If we talk about emotional management and stress, but don’t talk about the implicit bias that creates so much of that stress, our impact is limited.

We are talking about the men arrested for no reason at Starbucks, but we still don’t talk about the dehumanizing way individuals are treated at the welfare office.

We are at long last discussing police violence when it shows up in video, but still are not talking about the impact of living in a community where youth can be stopped and frisked at any time, for any reason, and might lose their freedom as a result.

We are finally talking about emotional management for our youth, but, if we don’t talk about the chronic toxic stress that structural racism creates, we are only doing part of the job.

In fact, the Philadelphia Urban ACE Study, a report that provides findings on the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) of Philadelphia residents, has found that “over one-third (34.5%) of adults reported experiencing discrimination based on their race or ethnicity.”

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If we talk about emotional management and stress, but don’t talk about the implicit bias that creates so much of that stress for our individuals in our communities, our impact is limited. If we talk about mindfulness, but fail to talk about the discrimination that makes up so much of the experience for so many of us, we are avoiding the real work.

When we talk about violence, trauma, and adversity, we have to make sure we are not just talking about the symptoms we see, but also talking about the root causes of those symptoms, rooted in the structural racism we continue to see in both big and small ways.

For more information about racism as an adverse childhood experience (ACE), check out The Philadelphia ACE Project.

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