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“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.”
Article credit: Atlantablackstar
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