Why social justice and trauma-informed education is necessary in East Baltimore schools and beyond

The recent Baltimore Sun investigative series on the consistent segregation in our school systems, in Baltimore and beyond, has been another wake-up call, to some. Focusing in on the investigation into the new Henderson-Hopkins contract school in East Baltimore and why trauma-informed education along with education about the history of injustice in the neighborhood and beyond is my objective in this piece.

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Block of homes demolished to make room for the Henderson-Hopkins School

Per the Sun’s article, Johns Hopkins University in the guise of the East Baltimore Development Inc. and its partners Annie E. Casey Foundation and the city and state, bought out the residents living in the homes that occupied the space of the current school and the growing Hopkins Biotech Park-88 acres known as Middle East Baltimore. Also true is the violation of residents’ human right to keep their land by forcing them to move through this massive public:private development similar to urban removal, this time using eminent domain*. This trauma is part of the foundation of the Henderson:Hopkins school: the physical, emotional, and spiritual foundation of injustice that has yet to be acknowledged, repaired, and healed. The current fair market value paid for residents’ homes came only after residents organized through Save Middle East Action Committee, Inc (SMEAC) and fought for this change. The initial price Hopkins and its partners offered residents for the land that would bring them much profit and prestige was the 1970’s value. This history of disrespect and disregard continues to have profound effects; it’s a continuation of the trauma brought about by gentrification, serial forced displacement* and community fragmentation of African-American people. And this injustice and resultant trauma affects a child’s ability to learn. This history of expulsion and dispossession has yet to be repaired. The children attending Henderson:Hopkins school bring this trauma and therefore healing of this must be a priority. They embody the continuation of the injustice and structural violence enacted on their parents, grandparents, and ancestors, and their land. The cost of a healing education for historic East Baltimore children will be high and requires the officials of the school to invest the dollars and resources necessary to assure that they are ready to learn-the teaching must be trauma-informed* and social justice-informed. But the government benefits received by the Johns Hopkins Biotech and Gentrification Park has been tremendous so translating these government subsidies into public benefit should be an expectation of Baltimore citizens. If not this project is just another neoliberal gentrification project expanding the gap between the rich university and the surrounding poor community.

For the past two years residents’ whose children and grand children attend the school have been complaining about the lack of interest in the needs of their children. One grandparent said she has been sending her child to school with her own toilet paper, a requirement by the school. Not only has the school been under-resourced, but this lack of adequate resources to address the great need of these students have been short-sighted. Adequate resources also include teachers ready and willing to care from a trauma-informed lens when educating children with generational/historical trauma*. If this school intended to benefit the children of the neighborhood, this needed to be part of the design of the educational curriculum and care. While it’s easy to blame the failure of academic performance on ‘concentrated poverty’ and suggest that the only way to educate children coming from homes of poverty and racial minority groups is to integrate the schools, a deeper and more truthful discourse is missing. What would be a more truthful discourse addressing the source of the history of racial, social, and economic injustice is to understand that the entire development of the 88-acre was never intended to benefit the existing residents. It was intended to move the existing residents away and expand the Johns Hopkins University. After organized and systematic protest and struggle to be treated fairly by residents, churches and businesses forced to leave, the ‘leaders’ of Henderson-Hopkins were forced to show how the development would benefit the community. Of course the 2005 supreme court ruling that eminent domain used by private developers must show real public benefit changed the original game of the ‘leaders’ of Hopkins’ expansion plan. Now they could be taken to court if there was not some public benefit from the taking of the homes of East Baltimore residents-and this may still happen if the public benefit promised does not materialize, ie. the 8000 jobs promised, affordable homes and amenities. When residents raised their voices about the school being exclusionary, and quoted the supreme courts’ ruling on the use of eminent domain, the ‘leaders’ of the school had to take note and include more local residents than previously planned. But also important is to recognize that the project has not taken off and new residents are not flocking to the development, even with the re-branding of the area and promotion of a new school. What must be discussed is the displacement of the challenges that were present in the 88-acre, to the neighborhoods just adjacent and the continued crime, substance use and sale, and disinvestment impacting these peripheral neighborhoods.The developments’ security guards now patrol on foot around the 88-acre area, a human wall attempting to keep the crime out, and the neighbors. The development has not benefitted historic residents, simply displaced the ‘problem’ to rehab and re-outfit the place with a more ‘acceptable’ race and class of people: one perceived more worthy of occupying the land. The community meetings held by EBDI provide no real opportunity for input by historic residents. Information promised, like the results of the recent survey on historic residents’ ‘right of return’-conducted by Annie E. Casey and consultants- that they filled out are asked for at each meeting and the response is the same: ‘next meeting’.

While studies show that children learn better in racially and socioeconomically diverse spaces, they also show that the environment that they come from determine if they will succeed in school. Studies also show that not only is the environment a determinant of educational outcome, but the environment of the mother also determines if a child will be successful in school. So to think that integrating Henderson-Hopkins school with children of Hopkins employees and students will bring their academic outcomes on par with their white and middle-class school mates is a superficial band-aid to the history of separate and unequal policies and structures. Because until we begin educating about the de jure segregation that exists in and in the surrounding neighborhoods of the 88-acre Johns Hopkins Biotech Park, we still are not educating all children from a place of truth and equity. The curriculum at Henderson-Hopkins certainly is not teaching them about the history of de jure segregation and why they are part of a history of serial forced displacement.

Serial Forced Displacement in the African American Community. Courtesy of Dr. Mindy Fullilove

Serial Forced Displacement in the African American Community. Courtesy of Dr. Mindy Fullilove

For this school to benefit historic residents in the short and long-term, it must address the generational trauma caused by social, economic, and racial injustice. Along with adverse childhood experiences* that many children growing up in situations of poverty experience, these obstacles to learning require an educational setting focused on these traumas. Trauma-informed education is not new. It’s been around for several years, informed by studies that show the benefit. Several states have mandated trauma informed education and include training of teachers in instructing and preventing negative outcomes of traumatized children, screening for trauma at schools, etc; examples are Oregon, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Missouri, Washington, Wisconsin. This is what we need in Henderson-Hopkins school for the school to attend to the needs of its residents and assure success. Doing so will unlock the true potential of every child entering the doors of the school and not only seek to bring black and brown children of poverty to ‘perform’ similar to children of means. The leaders of a school developed by taking of the land of people in Middle East Baltimore should aspire to offer benefit to the same people of this community. In order to do so it must teach to the needs of the community, not the myth of white supremacy.  Anything else is another deceit of the intention of the eminent domain policy of ‘public benefit’ and continues the history and trauma of serial forced displacement in Baltimore and beyond.

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*Terms

Adverse childhood experiences – stressful or traumatic events in childhood that are associated with health and social problems as an adult; include but not limited to Physical abuse, Sexual abuse, Emotional abuse, Physical neglect, Emotional neglect, Mother treated violently, Substance misuse within household, Household mental illness, Parental separation or divorce, Incarcerated household member

Serial forced displacement – repetitive, coercive upheaval of groups

Historical/generational trauma – the cumulative or multigenerational emotional and psychological wounding of an individual, generation, or cultural group caused by a traumatic experience or event.

Trauma-informed care – education and care based on the four “R’s,” – realization, recognition, response and resisting re-traumatization

Eminent domain – power of the government to take private property for public use

http://www.loringcornish.com/home

http://www.loringcornish.com/home

 

Healing from racial injustice and trauma: The path of Mindfulness

The practice of mindfulness helps us to stop and notice what is going on in our body and mind. As we notice, we can begin to take care of the places of imbalance inside. Only when we are moving toward balance inside can we truly contribute to balance outside. Our healing selves offer evidence of the healing that we con contribute to outside of us.

Join Baltimore and Beyond Mindfulness Community on March 3, 4, 5 in Pikesville Maryland for a retreat for People of Color. We will learn and deepen different  mindfulness practices, such as being aware: of our breath as we sit, walk, lay down, stand up; of what we are eating instead of chewing on our worries or our tasks; where our tensions and worries live in our bodies through deep relaxation to release tensions and stress. And build community through sharing from our hearts and looking deeply to see what is nourishing and what is challenging us. Mindfulness practices do not require us to become Buddhist. Whatever faith denomination we practice, or not, we can practice mindfulness guided by the ethical principles of non-harming, truthful speech, non-stealing, non-intoxicants, and right sexual conduct. We find stillness so we can be more aware of how and when we are pulled into behaviors, perceptions, thoughts which do not support these ethical principles and actions we all strive toward. Mindfulness allows us to see clearly, to notice our racing thoughts, and to decide which of these thoughts we will follow and which we will put aside. The practices of mindfulness slowly allows us to take control of ourselves, moving us toward true freedom.

Self-mastery is the supreme victory-much more to be valued than winning control over others. It is a victory that no other being whatsoever, can distort or take away.

The Dhammapada

Whether you are  a beginner or a current practitioner of mindfulness, all are welcome to meet up on this path of peace, love, justice, and community.

healing-ourselves-flyer                                                             JOIN US!!

 

Why does Baltimore need a Black Worker Center?

The thriving of low-income Black workers in Baltimore and beyond is critical for equitable access to housing, food, education, health, recreation, transportation. When someone who works for a living, is still unable to afford adequate food, shelter, clothing and medicine, we remain an inequitable society. When those workers congregate into the same racial/ethnic group, we have systematic racism: racism which is not only individualized but embedded deep within the policies and infrastructures of our society. A Black Worker Center can be a base of organizing to address this inequity for black people in Baltimore*.

The ability to work is the first step toward equity. This means that a person has the physical and mental wellness, health, to support them finding employment. The second step is being qualified to work: has the person had the necessary training to compete in the marketplace for a position? The third step is the availability of work. The fourth step is that the place of employment supports the worker so they can stay in the position and thrive. This fourth step brings us back full circle to the first: a thriving person has the ability to work. It’s a cycle that continues and that either allows a healthy and holistic body and mind to thrive, or not: on a cellular, organ, individual, community level.

Cycle of workAbility to work

Our environment supports our ability to work by supporting or physical and mental well being. This includes having healthy food, adequate shelter, regular and affordable access to preventive health care, a safe community, and a life not burdened by the stress of systematic discrimination. For a Black body, none of these conditions for a healthy life is assured. In fact, being Black increases the likelihood that these conditions are diminished and that an ongoing struggle is necessary to assure one or all of these conditions are in place. The historical trauma of slavery and current racism for Black people in America is a risk factor for diminished physical and mental health. This history includes government policies and public:private partnerships resulting in redlining, segregation and abandonment, urban renewal, and serial forced displacement. This historical and current racial oppression have increased the likelihood of low-income Black communities living with increased crime, drug trade, food deserts, diminished infrastructure, inadequate education, housing, transportation, and health services, and abandoned/boarded housing. These environments increase the risk of diminished health and shorter life spans. Low-income jobs which do not allow a family to leave such neighborhoods and laws and policies which continue community rebuilding that segregate and displace residents continue the risk of diminished health, and ability to work.

black.povertyBlack.mortality

Qualified to work

Being qualified to work requires that a person has had the opportunity to receive training that makes them competitive with others seeking similar employment. But if a low-income Black person, growing up in an abandoned and under-invested community has not received adequate education and training, they cannot compete with a person growing up in a neighborhood which allowed access to adequate education and training. If a low-income Black person has been in a community without role models who have succeeded in the market/workplace, they have not benefited from this type of informal-training. If a low-income Black person has received education that is not truthful about the courage, resilience, and accomplishments of Black people, they can/will internalize these wrong perceptions and believe that they cannot strive or achieve great things. And if the communities in which a low-income Black worker lives is not connected to a functional transportation system, they will be challenged to make it to work on time. Access to the workplace qualifies one to work.

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Availability of Work

There must be jobs available for low-income workers. Jobs which provide on-the-job training, apprenticeships, and access to education are important to assure that a low-income person can make their way out of a low-income lifestyle. The people hiring for these jobs must be trained in anti-oppression/anti-racism so they will not discriminate against hiring Black workers. Low-income jobs should not be equated to inadequate-income jobs. This means low-income jobs should pay enough to afford a family to: live in healthy neighborhoods, access adequate health care, access nutritious food. If employers in Baltimore will not/cannot pay adequate income to afford a family to live in a healthy neighborhood, a guaranteed basic income may be necessary to assure low-income families can break this cycle of poverty.

Livingwagebaltimore

Supportive Work Environment

Whether a person remains in a position once hired is determined by many factors. Are they promoted the same as other workers? For a Black worker, are they promoted, paid, and treated the same as White workers? Do co-workers or supervisors aggress Black workers with language and behaviors? Are low-income workers treated fairly, provided health insurance, a living wage, regular raises? If the wages paid do not allow a worker to live in healthy neighborhoods then the work environment continues to contribute to diminished health, decreasing the ability to work and live in healthy communities: the inequitable and unhealthy work cycle for low-wage Black workers continue into another generation. If the work environment does not respect the worker, workers will look elsewhere for an income to support themselves and their family. This type of work can be perceived as not a viable option for work. If there is no work, as occurred during the industrial revolution when factory work left cities and large unemployment occurred in communities, hustling begins (Dr. Mindy Fullilove, Black Mental Health Alliance series, 2016). This results in decreased social cohesion and dysfunctional communities.

The generational impact of unfair low-wage work is detrimental to healthy community rebuilding for all workers; specifically detrimental for recovery from historical trauma for Black workers. Black Worker Centers are increasing across the US with Baltimore launching its center (Black workers share about challenges faced working in sub-contracting positions for big corporations) on Martin Luther King Day, January 2017. Baltimore Black Worker Center  (BBWC) is committed to building a Black worker base to address the conditions of workers and to organize to change unfair policies and introduce new policies which support equitable treatment and healthy living, working, and learning conditions for Black workers. If our most vulnerable populations thrive, all of Baltimore will thrive. The reverse is also true. Stay tuned for BBWC’s first report on the history and current status of Black workers in Baltimore.

*Low income work is defined as less than $35,000/year, gross.

# Maps: http://bniajfi.org/

$ Living Wage Table: http://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/24510

 

Power corrupts and harms: Baltimore, policing violence, and its supporters

The recent report by the Department of Justice confirms what many already knew: the Baltimore Police Department uses its power to discriminate -in all aspects of law enforcement- against African Americans, cis- and trans-gendered women. The targeting for stopping and arresting was consistent and institutional. And the neighborhoods targeted were racially and economically profiled. Again, to be clear, none of this is new to most black folks in the city, or any other city in America. What is new to Baltimore is a history of accountability that will be public; if we decide to hold the process accountable. Because a public awareness of lack of accountability is our history and current practice. Black and brown folks have been requesting an investigation for years. It was the public display of protest after the murder of Freddie Gray while in custody of the police that finally led to an investigation of the department.

In light of the recent exposure of the secret surveillance of citizens by the Baltimore Police Department, and the vagueness and corruption of those involved -Baltimore Community Foundation (BCF), the mayor- not so sure that citizen protest is enough. The powerful forces that are leveraged against the black body is devastating and harmful to not just the body of those directly targeted, but the minds and bodies of every black and brown body. Every black and brown body is at risk when one body is at risk. When the lighting is low enough, when the police are in a hurry and angry/fearful enough, and when the vigilantes are feeling brave/fearful enough, every black and brown body is at risk. In some neighborhoods, it’s business as usual, as the DOJ report verifies. So what will we do to maintain a public scrutiny of the process of accountability by the police department?

CahalPech

Who do we trust?

Clearly the non-profit industrial complex has proved itself again to be bought by the rich evidenced by BCF’s receipt of private dollars to support surveillance of the public. But we should not hold them solely accountable. We must hold the entire non-profit industrial complex in our city accountable: the Casey foundation for their funding and collaboration of removal of more than 800 families in Middle East Baltimore for the Science and Technology Park at Johns Hopkins. The Abel Foundation for funding the initial plan, and the Weinberg and Goldseker Foundation and others for their continuous support of EBDI and New Forest City development of the Johns Hopkins Biopark.

These ways of building and rebuilding communities have lead to communities of fragmentation and disinvestment. Let’s stop letting the white and black and brown faces, paid by these same institutions which directly and indirectly support this uneven development, continue this history of exploitation. This continuous exploitation of neighborhoods of black and brown people-serial forced displacement- has set the path for police brutality. This disinvestment and continuous segregation while building the resources of those with power created neighborhoods of poverty and crime. Instead of investment of the wealth, accumulated off the backs of black and brown people, back into these communities they have been exiled and left to fend for themselves. The funding, when targeted to these communities, comes in the form of policing. So it’s no surprise that a wealthy couple in Texas, would pay for police surveillance of our communities and that a foundation would launder the monies for the police department.

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How do we heal, stop the violence, and assure equity?

Where is the moral code of our city and its “leaders”? Tomorrow the Baltimore Action Legal Team and Baltimore Bloc will convene a meeting to hear what residents of Baltimore feel should be included in the response by the police department back to the DOJ. The city council will have a hearing to learn what the Police Department had in mind when deciding to initiate secret surveillance of the citizens of Baltimore. While BCF is not a public entity, it certainly should be questioned by the city council for enabling this type of secrecy which continues the exploitation of the poor and black and brown bodies. Every development which continues to marginalize and gentrify neighborhoods should be called to task for continuing to create neighborhoods of easy targets for police brutality. Gentrification creates neighborhoods of risk by segregating those already facing hardships: like paying more than 30% of income on housing cost, having a low income, having poor health, have decreased educational attainment, etc. It’s time to look at the root causes of police brutality, and not be content with the outcome of the DOJ report. A thorough analysis requires us to understand how historic and current disinvestment by the city and its wealthy “leaders” have created communities prone to violence. For example the current Port Covington development in south Baltimore which seeks more than 600 million in public subsidy continues this history of exploitation of our tax dollars. The city council should investigate the disproportionate growth of the wealthy and the poor in our city and redistribute this wealth. It should investigate and repair how the city has chosen to ignore this legacy of separate and unequal community building and instead continue on the same path. Anything else is just a continuation of the superficial attention to the history of how the powerful have used racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia to exploit a capitalist political economy. How many more reports of the outcomes of this history do we need to change? As long as our communities remain fragmented, and our culture of violence, punishment, and corruption (itself a form of structural violence) continues, we will continue to get the same results. When will we wake up and do something different so we can become healthy and whole, individually and as communities? Let’s demand that our political leaders hold government departments and their powerful cronies/supporters accountable. Enough is enough Baltimore, we must stop the violence!

butterfly

Public health and community rebuilding, healing

Examining the effect of public health through the lens of environmental factors, mental health, and healing in our community: today on the Marc Steiner Show WEAA 88.9 FM in Baltimore. The host Dr. Kaye Wise Whitehead and guests, Dr. Martha Wharton, Dr. Marisela Gomez, Dr. Rita Turner explore the interconnections of lead poisoning in our abandoned and low income communities of color, the reasons for these conditions and the other systematic causes of health, and the spiritual and body depletion. Solutions are presented.
Podcast here:

Courtesy Baltimore Neighborhood Indicator Alliance

Courtesy Baltimore Neighborhood Indicator Alliance

Resources pertaining to these topics:

July 21st, 2pm Eastern time. First in a series of webinars on “The Impact of Racism on the Health and Wellbeing of the Nation” with Shiriki Kumanyika, PhD, MPH, and Camara P. Jones, MD, MPH, PhD APHA link

July 23rd, 6pm. Call to Action by Baltimore’s Black Mental Health Alliance “Baltimore Rising: Summoning the Village” Join Dr. Mindy Fullilove for causes, conditions, and solutions. Carter Memorial Church of God in Christ Church. 13 S. Poppleton. 21201 Email for information bhealthall@gmail.com
bmha

Office of Environmental Justice (of the Environmental Protection Agency) A site that provides information on what is happening in your community in regard environmental justice screening: Environmental Justice Screen; BLog reference

Resources on environmental pollution and health outcomes in neighborhoods:environment and health

Spiritual healing and social justice: Spirit and healing

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Social, environmental, economic and health impact assessments are critical tools to determine the effect of rebuilding communities, on existing community.
Environmental impact assessment
Health Impact Assessments
Social Impact Assessment
Economic Impact Assessment

NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Initiative NAACP

The role of hyperprofit-making on expulsion of people from land. Expulsion and hyperprofits

Historical Trauma, Colonizing Capitalism, and Systemic Racism: Addressing the Damage Caused by Serial Forced Displacement

Lawrence T. Brown
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This is how it’s done. When people are sitting on [stuff] that you want, you make ’em your enemy. Then you justify taking it.Jake Sully in Avatar

The problem of the 21st century is forced displacement. As capitalists and corporations march around the world grabbing real estate, resources, and rare earth minerals, the people of the Earth face the loss of their homes, neighborhoods, and livelihoods. Without land and the spaces to create and sustain viable cultures and communities, the people of the Earth shall perish.

In the United States, the colonization of land is at the heart of American history. Equipped with the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, Europeans swept across the land, plundering and murdering from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, eventually colonizing the land and displacing several million American Indians and Alaskan Natives from nearly 2.3 billion of acres of land to only 96 million acres of land.1,2 In the midst of today’s immigration politics—which demonizes immigrants coming from Central and South American countries—it is worth noting: early Europeans were the first “illegal aliens.”

During British colonial period, the colonizers erected powerful educational institutions where certain scholars in the employ of slaveholding capitalists created pseudo-scientific racial categories.3 Schools such as Harvard and the College of William and Mary opened what were called Indian schools to “civilize” and Christianize the indigenous people.3 Eventually, Europeans assumed whiteness as identity and as a rationalization for racial hierarchy and land domination. American Indians were racialized by Europeans as the “Red Man” and “Redskin” to facilitate colonization and to demean and dehumanize indigenous peoples.4 Whites colonized what became known as the United States, displacing Native Americans from their property and erasing their histories. Disconnected from their lands, Native American tribal groups were and remain affected by historical trauma, genocide, and health disparities.5

The History of Serial Forced Displacement among Descendants of Enslaved Africans

Black people were also uprooted and disconnected from their West African homelands due to the European-led Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade after Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. Approximately 12 million Africans were captured and packed on ships for the benefit of capitalists in the slave economy, i.e. slave traders, bankers, insurers, and plantation owners. Approximately 1.8 million captured Africans perished on African shores or in the ocean during the Middle Passage. Over 4.8 million Africans were shipped to Brazil alone. Another 4 million Africans were shipped to the Caribbean. About 400,000 African people were transported to the 13 emerging British colonies in the future United States.6

Before the Civil War in the United States, enslaved Africans had blackness imposed on them as a racial category and rationalization for dehumanization and rendering as property. By the beginning of the Civil War, Black people numbered 4.4 million strong.7 After the Civil War during a meeting, twenty Black leaders, led by Garrison Frazier, gave General William T. Sherman the reconstruction plan for the newly freed population of Black folks—every person should be given 40 acres and, later, a mule.8 Sherman then issued Special Field Order 15 which gave 400,000 acres of land to 40,000 Black people. As a sympathizer with the Confederacy, President Andrew Johnson overturned the Special Field Order 15 and confiscated most of the land back from the newly freed men and women.9

But in spite of the denial of reparations for enslavement and dehumanization, Black people would make a way out of no way. After Emancipation (1863) and Reconstruction (1865-1877), Black people built and created independent communities, universities, economic districts, and churches. They purchased millions of acres of farmland10 and constructed hundreds of neighborhoods11 throughout the heyday of Black Codes and Jim Crow Apartheid from 1878-1965.

But while valiant Black activists toiled, bled, and died to secure the civil rights victories of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, the majority of whites in government and the banking industry colluded to confiscate Black lands and colonize valuable Black Space. The USDA worked to dispossess rural Black farmers of their land.10 The Federal Housing Administration subsidized suburbs for whites and did not insure Black mortgages in the cities.12 Additionally, the Federal Housing Administration strongly enforced racial segregation via restrictive covenants.12 The Veterans Administration also engaged in discriminatory mortgage lending practices while administering educational and job training benefits in a racist manner.13 The Urban Renewal Administration partnered with white downtown business tycoons and historically segregated universities to displace Black residents.14 The Federal Highway Administration and Bureau of Public Roads partnered with the highway construction industry and local leaders to build highways through the middle of thriving Black neighborhoods.15 Altogether, over 1 million households were displaced from the late 1930’s to the early 1970’s by federally-sponsored actions,12 affecting at least 2 million Black people and hundreds of Black communities.11

In the private finance sector, white bankers engaged in redlining, denying mortgages to would-be Black homeowners, guided by the maps drawn by the federal Home Owners Loan Corporation.16 White terrorist mobs destroyed Black independent communities in Wilmington, NC in 1898 and Rosewood, FL in 1923 while murdering dozens of Black folk in Atlanta, GA in 1906 and bombing Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK in 1921. White lynchers—often led by terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan—lynched 3,000+ Black folks, sometimes stealing their lands as in the lynching of Isadore Banks in Crittenden County, AR in 1954.

Up through the early 1900s, the reign of violence instilled a justified fear that partially induced 6 million Black folks to leave the South during the Great Migration, starting in the 1910’s. During the Red Summer of 1919, whites violently raged against Black people in over 30 cities in cities such as St. Louis, MO, Washington DC, and Chicago, IL.17 Later in 1946 and 1947, white Chicagoans used violence to repel Black homeowners from living in segregated white neighborhoods Park Manor and Fernwood.18 But the reign of violence followed Blacks wherever they congregated and established collective wealth and economic security.

With the serial loss of Black farmland, homes, neighborhoods, and economic districts, the Black community has been and continues to be threatened by colonizing capitalism. I define colonizing capitalism in this essay as land-grabbing or “landjacking” for profit, using banking mechanisms, corporate development, or government legislation to displace less powerful people. The majority of Black people today are living in the New American Apartheid,19 characterized by systemic racism and colonizing capitalism that facilitate serial forced displacement.

The History of Colonizing Capitalism in Black Communities

Banks and financial institutions have historically operated and currently operate with a toxic combination of colonizing capitalism and discriminatory racism in Black neighborhoods. In some ways, it makes sense that banks and insurance companies operate in such a manner once we account for the fact that American slavery helps explain the rise of some of today’s banks (Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Wachovia/Wells Fargo) and insurance companies (Aetna and New York Life).20 From the 1930s through the 1990s, banks and real estate agencies were allowed to practice a variety of mechanisms to damage the homeownership prospects of Black folk, including restrictive covenants, redlining, predatory lending, racial steering, and blockbusting. Leading up to the financial meltdown and Great Recession of 2008, banks such as Wells Fargo, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Citigroup were the key culprits in targeting Blacks and Latinos for subprime mortgage lending, leading to mass foreclosures.21,22

Targeting Black communities for originating subprime mortgages is known as reverse redlining, 23 another financial tool that is being used to transfer home ownership from families back to banks. 24 Some Wells Fargo bank employees called their anti-Black subprime mortgages “ghetto loans.”25 Altogether, we can trace today’s banking practices to a recent time where banks did not let Black folks obtain mortgages due to residential restrictions and redlining at the behest of the federally-sponsored, eugenics-based, racially-demeaning, color-coded maps.26

The ultimate result of systemic racism and colonizing capitalism for many African Americans is historical trauma and serial forced displacement, through gentrification, mass foreclosures, eminent domain for private interests, and the dismantling of public housing. Since presidents and Congress members have been defunding the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and downsizing public housing over the past 40+ years, local public housing authorities have been selling their land holdings to private corporate developers so they can obtain valuable urban properties.27 HUD has utilized land disposition as a main tool of HOPE VI in the 1990s and 2000s to demolish public housing and is now using Choice Neighborhoods and RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration) in the 2010s. With these methods, local housing authorities are selling public land to corporate developers for private profit.27 Often, local nonprofits and black municipal political leaders have partnered with local governments to facilitate this arrangement.28

What is certain is that millions of Black people have been forcibly displaced over the past 25 years. The analytic firm CoreLogic reported that since 2008, there have been approximately 3.4 million completed foreclosures (as of March 2012).29 Over 250,000 public housing units have been demolished with another 285,000 slated for demolition.27 Eminent domain was expanded by the Supreme Court in Kelo v. New London in 2005 and has been shown to primarily target areas occupied by Black and poor populations.30 The same is true for gentrification.31 Therefore, it is not unlikely that in the past 25 that at least another 2 million Black people have been forcibly displaced and hundreds of Black communities have been impacted.

The Health Effects of Sustained Historical Trauma

Disconnected from their homelands, farmland, coastal and waterfront properties32, independent communities, urban neighborhoods, and private homes, African Americans—similar to Native Americans—are affected by colonizing capitalism and serial forced displacement, both resulting in a disproportionate burden of health. The resulting root shock and the rising stress when attempting to cope with serial forced displacement is still sending shock waves through the bodies and spirits of those affected by the loss of their homes, communities, and identity.33 The ongoing damage caused by colonizing capitalism and serial forced displacement has resulted in sustained historical trauma in Black communities. Michael Sotero describes historical trauma as follows:

…historical trauma originates with the subjugation of a population by a dominant group. Successful subjugation requires at least four elements: (1) overwhelming physical and psychological violence, (2) segregation and/or displacement, (3) economic deprivation, and (4) cultural dispossession.34

Given the history described above and Sotero’s definition, it is clear that Black folks in the United States as a population are impacted by and victims of sustained historical trauma. The history described above for the Black population in the United States are the “elements of successful subjugation” described by Sotero as necessary for sustained historical trauma. To a varying degree, the same can be said for American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and undocumented immigrants from Central American nations.

Research is presenting more and more compelling evidence of what is known as the ‘transgenerational epigenetic inheritance’ that can provide the key pathway by which historical trauma exerts an influence on the health of affected populations.35,36 According to Alan Horsager, transgenerational epigenetic inheritance means that “…experiences and environmental exposures can change the way your DNA works (without changing the DNA itself) and this could be passed on to your offspring.”37 Thus, the impact of colonizing capitalism and serial forced displacement in the past may be passed epigenetically from prior generations to present populations.

Since forced displacement is still taking place in many Black, Brown, and Red communities, the primary effects of historical trauma are still being experienced today in many ways. As Sotero explains:

Trauma response in primary generations may include PTSD, depression, self-destructive behaviors, severe anxiety, guilt, hostility, and chronic bereavement. Psychological and emotional disorders may well translate into physical disease, and vice versa.34

In response to an interview concerning diabetes among the White Mountain Apache posed by researcher Tennille Marley, a tribe member and elder Sharon stated:

Our people are descendants of ancestors that were here that did not have these types of disease before what we call ‘The Arrival.’ The ancestors did not have immunity against certain things that were brought over by the early Europeans—the Conquistadors and the colonizers. I believe that our problems with diabetes go back to those times.38

Elder Sharon’s response perfectly captures the sequelae of health conditions that began after the imposition of colonizing capitalism and forced displacement enacted by early Europeans. The elder continued:

…this historical trauma is handed down intergenerationally from our ancestors … even though our contemporary Apaches might not be aware of that. They will deny it … but they’re not aware that our parents, our grandparents, suffered from [it] and … how the mistreatment has brought these things down to us … Genocidal policies by the U.S. government and by the Conquistadors strongly affect our health now.38

Many Black people are also in denial about historical trauma. But the medical and health-related evidence is rising. Black people who have been displaced recently can experience negative health outcomes ranging from cardiovascular to mental health, including everything from heart failure to nervous breakdowns, from anxiety attacks to deep depression, and from loss of cultural identity to wrestling with suicide. In many ways, being forcibly displaced even today opens fresh wounds that have never healed.

Of course, the immediate stress imposed by an impending forced displacement poses a health risk that Mindy Fullilove brilliantly conceptualizes as ‘root shock’.33 But a broader conceptualization of stress can help explain how historical trauma remains such a visceral force in the lives of many Black people in the form of an ‘aftershock’. Due to what can be described as perseverative cognition, the victims of historical trauma might worry about history repeating itself or might ruminate on the devastation wrought by past forced displacements. Perseverative cognition is another key pathway by which historical trauma exerts an influence on the health of affected populations. Brosschot and colleagues describe perseverative cognition as the following:

Worry, rumination, and many related cognitive processes in the literature, such as anticipatory stress and cognitive intrusions, are conceptually close but are usually not equated with one another. … The core feature of these repetitive cognitions that is responsible for the effects on somatic [or physical] health is that they contain cognitive representations of a psychological problem, a difficulty, a crisis, or, in other words, a stressor. To refer to this central shared feature, we suggest the term perseverative cognition. Thus, we define perseverative cognition as the repeated or chronic activation of the cognitive representation of one or more psychological stressors.

This research indicates that the chronic activation of the cognitive representation of historical trauma can introduce a more chronic form of stress that simultaneously and negatively activates cardiovascular, immune, endocrine, and neurovisceral systems.39 Put simply, chronic stress derived from worrying about and ruminating over sustained historical trauma wears down the body’s systems.

Most Black folks are acutely aware of striking and sobering incidents that speak to the sufferings and struggles, the trials and tribulations that come with being Black in America. Thus, when due to this awareness, a Black person has experienced forced displacement in their lifetime, they may continue to worry or ruminate over lost land, lost homes, lost dreams, and lost opportunities long after the act of forced displacement itself, activating chronic stress. Because of serial forced displacement and other community injuries, Black folks know historical trauma can reemerge at any time. Due to ongoing systemic racism, they know that it often will.

Serial forced displacement is a lethal social determinant of health, one that reverberates as a series of aftershocks following the initial root shock.33 The damage wrought by historical trauma is passed epigenetically from former generations to current populations. Perseverative cognition concerning historical trauma can induce worry and rumination that prolongs stress. As loved ones die and communities are broken in the aftermath of forced displacement, people lose hope; they wither and are left to face the punishing fates. But the negative health outcomes are not due to fate, chance, or lack of personal character. Rather, it has often been the result of the societal design described above.

Addressing Sustained Historical Trauma

We need a movement to increase people’s education about the role of colonizing capitalism and systemic racism in leading to serial forced displacement, root shock, aftershocks, and long-lasting negative health outcomes. We need a movement to help medical practitioners and lay persons alike understand the health effects of sustained historical trauma, especially among those who have been forced to leave their homes recently or who have been victims of racist violence and incidents.

We need a movement that starts in Baltimore and activates 10,000 people and 100 organizations to divest their money from banks that offered subprime mortgages disproportionately to Black people just as the U.S. Presbyterian Church is divesting funds companies that enable Israeli occupation of Palestine.40 We need a movement where local Black churches and civil rights organizations align to create an anti-foreclosure fund to help people keep their homes, especially since some of them have worked hand-in-hand with the banking system to expose their parishioners and members to subprime mortgages.

We need a movement in the halls of power to pass new anti-displacement legislation, prevent banks from engaging in subprime lending, and enforce affordable housing a human right. In order to prevent the damage that is caused by colonizing capitalism and serial forced displacement, we need to infuse the curricula of our educational systems—from kindergarten to college—with the methods by which colonizing capitalism and systemic racism combine to cause death and destruction to Black, Brown, and Red people.

We need a movement to hold Black churches and civil rights organizations accountable for facilitating foreclosures by partnering with banks just as the Jesus of Scripture whipped the money changers in the Temple. American churches are in need of reform as they have accepted or condoned colonizing capitalism, serial forced displacement, and systemic racism. As Edward Blum describes Du Bois’ thinking on the matter:

…organized religion, at least in the western world, [has] failed miserably because it [has] been co-opted by big business and land-grabbing nations. The world of finance corrupted the world of faith, Du Bois proclaimed, and this created a world where demons disguised themselves as angels, bullies paraded as benefactors, and the blind claimed that those with eyes could not see.

Ultimately, in order to heal the damage that has already been caused, we need to address the physical and mental health symptoms existing in the Black populations today—especially among the descendants of enslaved African in the United States (DAEUS)—and prevent them from occurring in the future. To do so, we need to institute and implement land restitutions and reparations for those who have been harmed by serial forced displacement and sustained historical trauma. Only land restitutions and reparations will allow the Black community to restore and rebuild Black neighborhoods, independent communities, waterfront properties, and economic districts while reconnecting to farmland and land next to the waters that brought our ancestors over. If we decolonize our society and undo racism, we can reconnect to the land, articulate and maintain an empowered identity, walk in communion with our ancestors, address historical trauma, create sustainable ways of living, and be made whole.  

ReferencesEndnotes