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African American Youth At Risk: Stress from Racial Discrimination [Washington University]

Exposure to stress can increase the risk for violent behaviors and depressive symptoms for African-American young adults. Different types of stress, particularly racial discrimination, can influence the level of this risk, finds a new study by Lorena Estrada-Martínez, PhD, assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

The study, to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, examined whether different kinds of stressors equally influence the risk for violent behaviors and depressive symptoms among African Americans transitioning into young adulthood (ages 19-25).

“Results indicate that stressors do not equally impact the risk for violent behavior,” Estrada-Martínez says. “African-American youth who were at greatest risk for engaging in violent behaviors while transitioning into adulthood were those who experienced higher levels of racial discrimination in addition to general daily stressors.

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning [Heart, Mind, and Seoul]

From the moment she was born and arguably even in utero, my daughter has never not known a time when her needs have not been acknowledged. The timely responsiveness of attentive and consistent caretakers, namely the woman who gave birth to her, is her only reality. From her first cry, the same person has been there to validate and affirm her existence. The same can be said for my brothers (who are my parent’s biological children) as well as many of you who are reading this. In my opinion, my daughter had unlimited access to every resource available as she started her life. Not so for myself or my son or for most other adopted persons. Many of us were abandoned and our cries for food, for touch, for recognition fell upon deaf ears until we were found. Some of us were hospitalized and were not able to have access to skin-to-skin contact for days, weeks, months or even years. And still some of us had a revolving door of caretakers who depending on the circumstances, could not attend to even our very basic needs in an acceptable amount of time that told us that we mattered, that we were important to someone – that we actually existed.

In the case of the opening scenario, it’s easy to see how one’s circumstances in life can more easily influence our choices than others. It’s not that I consciously wanted to feel unworthy, unloved or unwanted throughout my life, it’s just that given my life’s beginnings I had to work that much harder at feeling worthy, loved and wanted in life. One could argue that since the day I was adopted I have never been shown anything but continuous acts that have repeatedly demonstrated just how worthy, loved and wanted I really was, and that would be true. And to be sure, that went a long way in not only helping me to find my own self-worth, but believing it, too. But so too did my earliest beginnings marked by abandonment, separation and loss go a long way in inscribing an imprint in my both my brain and in my body that will forever be with me. Understanding that notion has allowed me to more gentle and much kinder to myself. I was adopted in an era where the impact of abandonment and loss was minimized at best, some even thought of it as a myth that we adoptees used as an excuse for our “poor choices”. Adoptive parents today know better and today’s adoptees deserve for our beginnings to be acknowledged and affirmed.

Class and Race as Competing Self Interests or Whiteness as Symbolic Politics, Part. 1 [race-talk; Kirwan Institute]

If we accept the proposition that symbolic attitudes like party-affiliation and racial prejudice are more powerful drivers of political preferences and voting behavior than self-interest, how can we use this information to frame the dialogue for a progressive political agenda, to build support for liberal ideology and liberal political candidates? Within this context, will an appeal to class interests, absent a salient discussion of race and American racial politics further this goal? These questions cannot be answered without an understanding of “whiteness,” the implicit need to maintain boundaries around idealized and tangible white space.

In America, “whiteness” is a dominant symbolic attitude. It is the collective unconscious belief that certain people are entitled to a position at the top of an imagined social/political/economic hierarchy, that this is the natural order of things. Author Ruth Frankenberg (1993) defines whiteness as a structural location that confers exclusive privilege, “a standpoint from which to view and assess Self and Other, and a set of cultural practices that is usually unmarked, unnamed, and normatively given.” Even among white ethnic immigrants, whiteness is profoundly important in America. Frankenberg maintains that conflicts over the meaning of whiteness and Americanness precipitated by European immigrants have been resolved through processes of assimilation, not exclusion. Euro-ethnic mobility into whiteness, she suggests, was facilitated by shifts in social climate that the 1940s war effort engendered by state policies and subsidies. Scholar john powell (2005), currently Director of UC Berkeley’s Haas Diversity Research Center, has suggested that the development of racialized identity in America coincided with the historic development of the American psyche and that, therefore, White Americans are heavily invested in maintaining the boundaries around whiteness that regulate the distribution of benefits. This view suggests a dynamic synergy between whiteness and patriotism.

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