COMMENTARY: When Did Living in Urban America Become a Disease?

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  • I hate the term “hood disease.” I don’t use it. I don’t accept it. And it’s disrespectful. But I do understand there is a serious problem in our urban communities.

    The Centers for Disease Control recently estimated about 30 percent of inner-city children are affected by post-traumatic stress disorder, an illness commonly associated with soldiers who have returned home from war zones. The CDC says that some of these children – many of whom are African-American — live in virtual war zones.

    I get that. But doctors and researchers at Harvard University claim that young people in the inner-city suffer from an even more complex form of PTSD – an ailment that some have labeled “hood disease.”

    Really? I understand that many black kids – and kids of color – are severely traumatized by violence in their neighborhoods. Each day in communities of color there are violent acts: shootings, murders, rapes. And young kids are witnesses to some crimes – or have family members who have been victimized. Either way, it’s a deeply troubling situation.

    But these kids have enough problems to deal with – like surviving. San Francisco State University associate professor Jeff Duncan-Andrade told reporters that education is secondary to survival for these children. “You could take anyone who is experiencing the symptoms of PTSD, and the things that we are currently emphasizing in school will fall off their radar,” said Duncan-Andrade.“Because, frankly, [schoolwork] does not matter in our biology if we don’t survive the walk home.”

    It’s certainly understandable that kids of color would have emotional issues from living in violent neighborhoods, but the last thing these kids need is some racially insensitive psychobabble tag that identifies them as having some sort of a disease. It’s racially insensitive and it’s problematic for kids of color.

    “People from afar call it ‘Hood Disease,’ – it’s what academics call it,” Olis Simmons, CEO of the Oakland-based Youth UpRising, told a San Francisco television station. “In the real world where this affects real lives, people are suffering from a chronic level of trauma that doesn’t have a chance to heal because they’re effectively living in a war zone within your town,” said Simmons. “Terms like ‘Hood Disease’ mean it’s someone else’s problem, but it’s not,” she added. “That’s a lie. It’s a collective problem, and the question is what are we prepared to do about it?”

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