For America’s Black mothers, the fear of loss and trauma is constantWhen photographer Jon Henry poses families as if in mourning, he’s calling out police violence that too often kills young Black men and terrifies their mothers.
Following several nationally publicized police killings of unarmed Black Americans in the United States, Eva L., a fitness instructor who identifies as Black, started to experience what she describes as “immense paranoia.” She would often call in sick, because she feared risking an encounter with police upon leaving her house. She also started to second-guess her and her husband’s decision to have children. “Seeing Black bodies murdered and physical/emotional violence online and on the news” was a trauma she could no longer bear, Eva says. “I was terrified of bringing a child into the world we live in and experience as Black people. I thought not having kids was a truer sign of love than risk them being harmed by this world.”
A recent study sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania—released just before the anniversaries of the deaths of Eric Garner (2014), Michael Brown (2014), John Crawford (2014), and Philando Castile (2016)—found that there could be millions like Eva, for whom these killings have been a mental health trigger. Research included data from the Mapping Police Violence Project database for police killings between 2013 and 2016 and information from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System of over 103,000 Black Americans. The results indicate that police killings of unarmed Black Americans are having a population-level impact on the mental health of Black Americans.
According to researchers, the incidents may contribute to 1.7 additional poor mental health days per person every year, or 55 million more poor mental health days every year among Black Americans across the United States. That means the mental health burden for African Americans caused by police killings of unarmed Black victims is nearly as great as the mental health burden associated with diabetes. African Americans have some of the highest rates of the disease, which contributes annually to 75 million days of poor mental health among them.
African Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population but they accounted for 26 percent of people fatally shot by police in 2015 and 2016. While the death of a loved one can be tragic for the family and community of any police-shooting victim regardless of race, the study reveals that there is a deeper trauma for African Americans, related to the victim or not. Eva started seeing a therapist who diagnosed her as having generalized anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s been two years now, and she admits that her progress toward healing has been slow, yet steady. Jacob Bor, co-author of the study and assistant professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, says the responses in his social circle to police killings of unarmed Black victims is what interested him in conducting this study. Bor noticed that White people were able to comprehend “the injustice on an intellectual level but did not experience the same level of trauma.”
The study findings confirmed Bor’s personal observations. The research team did not observe spillover mental health effects in White respondents from police killings. It should also be noted that among respondents of either race, there were no spillover effects for police killings of unarmed White people or killings of armed Black people. The research is essential in considering our own personal experiences, says Bor, adding that the findings speak to the overall “value of different people’s lives.” This society “has a long history of state-sanctioned violence” toward racially marginalized groups, he says. The mental health sector is only now researching the impact of police brutality, a concern that has affected African Americans for decades. “Clinicians can go through medical school without [gaining] any experience in treating the effects of racism,” Bor says. Studies like his, he adds, can help to create long overdue critical mainstream discussions about the effects of racism on mental health, such as, “How do we in public health, society, and among the clinical and mental health services support people when these incidents occur?” and “Can a profession dominated by White providers effectively treat the emotional struggles of ‘living while Black’ in this country?” According to Bor, these discussions are needed to implement change. “Among many White Americans, there is an empathy gap … and a failure to believe when people of color say ‘this hurts me,’” he says.
“Mental health is the ultimate intersectional concern.”
Adding to the deficiency of culturally competent therapists, poverty and other formidable socio-economic challenges—also stemming from structural racism—remain steadfast barriers to African Americans accessing mental health care, according to the American Psychological Association. New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, has also become a passionate advocate for what she describes as a movement for “culturally competent mental health care.” “When you talk about people of color, who are obviously facing discrimination and legacy of racism and poverty in huge numbers, you are talking about something that is really tough to overcome,” McCray says. Inadequate care undermines benefits from policies and resources designed to mitigate the burdens of systemic oppression. “Mental illness along with substance abuse disorders are hardship multipliers,” she says. Struggling unsupported with “mental illness can make everything that much harder.” For example, holding on to affordable housing, staying enrolled in college, and even surviving encounters with law enforcement can be extremely more difficult for those suffering from mental illness or trauma, McCray says. In fact, the most recent annual numbers from the Washington Post’s database of fatal police-shooting victims indicate that “nearly 1 in 4 of those shot was described as experiencing some form of mental distress at the time of the encounter with police.” “Mental health is the ultimate intersectional concern,” McCray says. “It is reflected in all of our policies … education, housing, school, relationships.” In 2015, she and her spouse, Mayor Bill de Blasio, launched Thrive NYC, a $850 million mental health program that incorporates 54 initiatives. Among the program’s several core objectives is the aim to address the stigma around mental illness and increase access to treatment across the city. McCray believes that ThriveNYC’s community focused approach is one of several necessary steps toward reaching historically underserved groups. “Culturally competent care to me is all about trust,” McCray says. “It improves early identification, accessibility, and outcomes.” Also, she says, “People have to be seen.” From her advocacy experience she has observed that “people have to feel that they can turn to someone that they trust.” Connecting people with the appropriate resources, however, means surmounting many challenges. “There is great deal of work to be done to eliminate the stigma,” McCray says. There is also the matter of affordability and infrastructure. “We’ve never had a well-coordinated mental health system in our country—ever. People who have the money find ways to manage.” She says she wants to fight for everyone to get the resources they need to cope. Eva recognizes that her path to healing has taken a significant amount of work and support beyond the means of many African Americans. “Access to therapy is a privilege,” she says. “I know that most people can’t afford weekly sessions at $150-plus.” Yet, she adds, “[going through therapy] is the only reason why I’m OK planning for kids at 32.”
By Aaron Hunt, MS (Graduate Intern, APA Health Disparities Office) and David J. Robles, BA (Graduate Intern, SAMHSA Office of Behavioral Health Equity)
From 2001 to 2015, the suicide risk for Black boys between the ages of 5 and 11 was two to three times higher than that of White boys, according to a new research letter in JAMA Pediatrics (Bridge, 2018). This concerning trend continues through adolescence as reported by the Nationwide Youth Risk Behavior Survey (Kann et al., 2017). The rates of attempted suicide, including attempts that resulted in an injury, poisoning, or overdose, are 1.2x higher among Black males compared to White males.
These persistent trends are enrooted in life expectancy disparities that Black boys face. The APA Working Group on Health Disparities in Boys and Men recently released a new report on Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic and Sexual Minority Boys and Men, which includes a review of research which may help to explain this increase in suicide in Black boys.
about Dr. Tommy J. Curry
Dr. Curry is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Texas A&M University. He is a Ray A. Rothrock Fellow 13′-16′ in the Department of Philosophy. He is an editor of PhilPapers, Choice Magazine and a regular contributor to RacismReview.com and OUR COMMON GROUND.
Over the last several years, Dr. Curry has published over three dozen articles in prestigious venues like: The Journal of Black Studies, The Radical Philosophy Review, The Pluralist and The Transactions of the Charles S. Pierce Society. He is the editor of a forthcoming re-publication of William H. Ferris’s The African Abroad, and is currently working on several manuscripts: the first full-length publication on Derrick Bell’s political philosophy that birthed the Critical Race Theory movement entitled Illuminated in Black; a philosophical exploration of Black male death and dying entitled “The Man-Not;” and a book on Josiah Royce’s racism.
His work in social justice, applied ethics, and bioethics concerns the present interpretation of the Belmont report, and the racial/class barriers to minority access to medical innovation in health care.
He has been interviewed by Forbes.com, the Wall Street Journal,Salon.com and other popular venues for his opinions on politics, ethics, and racial justice issues.
“So we have hypothesized since 1978, that Black manhood is different than the concept of masculinity, in 1992, several studies decided to test this notion. Guess what they found:
Historically, the images of Black manhood have been unidimensional, and research has tended to focus on the inadequacies of Afro-American males’ role performance. In this preliminary analysis, we explored the cultural constructions of manhood as defined by Afro-American men at various social locations (age, occupation, income, and marital and family status). Manhood was defined in terms of the self (self-determinism and accountability, pride), family (family), the human community, and existential ideology (spirituality and humanism). It is our view that issues of self-determinism and accountability (i.e., directedness, maturity, economic viability, free will, and perseverance) are at the core of the self and of manhood and form the foundation on which family role enactment, pride, and living through one’s existential philosophy (e.g., spiritual, Afrocentric, and humanistic) are based. Interestingly, discussions of masculinity were absent from men’s definitions of manhood. Perhaps this reflects an awareness of the differences between the physical sexual man and the social man that Hare and Hare (1985) suggest is critical in Black boys’ transition into manhood. When respondents were asked to rate attributes related to masculinity (e.g., physically strong, competitive,masculine, and aggressive), they saw it as somewhat important. In short, although masculinity may be a part of being a man, it is not the foundation on which manhood rests.” Andrea Hunter and James E. Davis-1992
On this broadcast, we begin with the recently released report by the Schotts Foundation for Public Education, “Black Lives Matter”
We recommend that you either review or read it prior to the broadcast.http://blackboysreport.org/
“It seems that America has tolerated and grown accustomed to the under-education of African American males largely because it has written this off as a “black problem.” Rather than being embraced as an American problem and challenge, our leaders in politics, business and education, have implored the Black community to do something, while washing their hands of responsibility for the failure of the public institutions that should serve them. . . .
The consequences have also been evident in the high rates of unemployment in economically depressed, socially marginalized neighborhoods, cities and towns where desperation festers and crime and violence are rampant.
The consequences have also been felt by families and communities where fatherless children fall prey to a vicious cycle of failure in part because they lack access to fathers because they are incarcerated, or don’t have the skills to obtain a job to support their family.” – Pedro A. Noguera, Professor of Education
Executive Director, Metropolitan Center
New York University – See more at: http://blackboysreport.org/national-summary/afterword-by-pedro-a-noguera/#sthash.GKiVJMsm.dpuf
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“His self-definition could not survive separation from the institution that became his personal nemesis. In the end, he was as lonely as Rambo in First Blood, and just as politically lost.
A public death belongs to the public. Dorner’s fans, his African American public, whom he did not serve but who would inevitably embrace his weeklong death-throe defection from the LAPD, imbue him with qualities they wish were reliably available to the struggle: a Nat Turner, a Spook Who Sat by the Door. The Bronx, New York dope dealer, Larry Davis, who in1986 succeeded in shooting six of seven cops who came to his sister’s apartment to arrest or assassinate him, achieved similar fame. Davis eluded capture for 17 days, negotiated a surrender at his public housing hideout as residents chanted “Lar-ry! Lar-ry!” – and beat the charges of attempted murder of cops. (William Kunstler and Lynne Stewart were his lawyers.) His fans forgave Davis’s dope dealing ways, just as Dorner’s fans forgave his previous service to the Los Angeles Occupation Army.
The enduring lesson of Dorner’s saga is that the transformation of the LAPD into a majority-minority police force does not change its nature as an army of occupation whose mission is racist to the core, regardless of its ethnic composition. That fact finally dawned on Christopher Dorner – and it killed him.”
– BLACK AGENDA REPORT
Study: Black Male Incarcerations Jumped 500% from 1986 to 2004, Resulting in a Mental Health Crisis
by Dr. Boyce Watkins
A report has been released at Meharry Medical College School of Medicine about the devastating impact that mass incarceration has on our society. The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, is one of the most thorough examinations of the impact that mass incarceration has on the African American community. The study’s authors argue that the billions of dollars being spent keeping non-violent offenders behind bars would be better spent on education and rehabilitation.
“Instead of getting health care and education from civil society, African American males are being funneled into the prison system. Much of this costly practice could be avoided in the long-term by transferring funds away from prisons and into education,” says Dr. William D Richie, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Meharry Medical College, lead author of the paper.
The study’s authors note that 60% of all incarcerations are due to non-violent, drug-related crimes. The authors also note that the cost of substance abuse in the United States is as high as half a trillion dollars per year.
“Spending money on prevention and intervention of substance abuse treatment programs will yield better results than spending on correctional facilities,” the authors claim in the study.
Finally, the authors note that while crime rates have declined over the last 20 years, incarceration rates has climbed through the roof. The inmates occupying these jail cells are disproportionately black. In fact, the black male incarceration rate has jumped by 500% between 1986 the 2004. The authors note that, even for those who don’t abuse drugs before going to prison, the likelihood of substance abuse after prison goes up dramatically.
The mass incarceration epidemic affects all of us, even those who haven’t gone to prison: It affects the child who grows up without a father who has been incarcerated, the children who are bullied at school by that child, the woman seeking a husband who can’t find a good man to marry, the list goes on and on. When so many of our men are marginalized and incarcerated, this has a powerful impact on the sociological ecosystem of the black community, the same way an economy crumbles when a few large companies go bankrupt.
The point here is that we cannot look at the holocaust of mass incarceration as someone else’s problem or something that just affects criminals. The punishment should fit the crime, and when every study imaginable says that black people are more likely to go to jail for the same crimes, this means that Jim Crow is alive and well. Something must be done at the grassroots, state and federal levels. We cannot allow this epidemic to exist any longer.