She was at Armature Works, a mixed-use space in the diverse Tampa Heights neighborhood. Jackson said her son spotted the “little blonde girl and began chasing her, filled with excitement at finding a new friend.” When Jackson learned of the girl’s interpretation of her child and that of her parents, she said she couldn’t believe her son was being vilified so soon. “I cried all weekend. I thought we had more time,” the mother wrote on Instagram.
She captioned in the post:
To you, it may seem small. But every Black mother dreads “the shift”:
George Floyd called out to his mother with his last breaths.
Daunte Wright called his mother before his life was snatched.
When Elijah gets a license, grows a mustache, and fills with muscles, a white woman may point to him and call him “suspicious”.
And I know the task that lies ahead is one of years of affirming him, protecting him.
Don’t they know that beneath the peach fuzz and biceps he will always be my beautiful brown boy?
The child Elijah played with and the parents teaching her to fear Black boys made an assumption that is hardly confined to child’s play. It has also seeped into the work of educators and specialists tasked with serving those living through trauma. The first nationally representative survey on public and private preschool data revealed in 2017 that of an estimated 250 preschoolers suspended or expelled daily, Black children were two times more likely to be suspended or expelled than other children. More than 10 years earlier, Yale University Professor Walter Gilliam’s research identified “big, Black, or boy”—whether a student is big, Black, or a boy—as the three best indicators of whether teachers are more likely to recommend preschool students for suspension or expulsion.
Adam Harris, a staff writer at The Atlantic wrote that “social workers and educators who see young people—especially Black boys who live in poor, segregated neighborhoods—react aggressively, become irritable, or have trouble concentrating, often identify such behavior as maladaptive” despite new research and pre-existing studies that point to the behaviors as rational responses to environmental triggers. In a study of the experiences of 40 Black men in a bereavement group, University of North Carolina professor Jocelyn Smith Lee found that the men between the ages of 18 and 24 knew an average of three people who had been killed. Her work highlighted an essential question too often overlooked: “What does it mean for a group of young men to figure out who they are when their peers are being killed?”
“In the mental-health community, we use the language of post-traumatic stress,” Lee told Harris. “But there isn’t a ‘post’ context for this group of young men. This is happening where they live.”
Noni Gaylord-Harden, a clinical psychologist whose work builds on Lee’s findings, found that young men have had to learn to be vigilant but also to respond to potential threats aggressively because it’s that aggression that made them less likely to be victims of violence, whether by civilians or police.
“There’s no shortage of folks ready to use these findings to support racist policies and dangerous stereotypes,” she said. “I always emphasize that this is not a criminal-justice issue. We need to work to understand what these young people have experienced rather than punishing them for how they react to it.”
Gaylord-Harden added in her interview with Harris: “These behaviors that we see and that we sometimes pathologize are not rooted in Blackness or the Black experience. They’re rooted in traumatic stress.” Racism only adds to that stress.
Wizdom Powell, the director of the Health Disparities Institute and an associate professor of psychiatry at UConn Health, contextualized the triggering trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin before he was convicted of murdering George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes. “We have to remember that racism is a stressor,” she told ABC News. “And because it is a stressor, it impacts our minds, bodies, and spirits in similar ways as other stressors.
“This stress can result in trauma symptomatology, something that we’re all talking about. Racial trauma is real, and it can manifest itself in ways that can result in negative health, physical and mental health, outcomes for those who are impacted. ” Just because communities of color are extremely resilient in dealing with racism does not mean those communities are protected from the impacts to mental health outcomes, Powell added. “As a consequence of COVID-19, we have seen already upticks in adverse mental health conditions on U.S. adults. You can only imagine that those conditions would be exacerbated among communities of color who are facing unique culturally relevant stressors like racism,” she said. “So we have to be on the lookout for the shadowing pandemic that’s being produced by both a confluence of COVID-19 but its intersection with stressors like racism and racialized violence.”