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Forward Promise: Disrupting Dehumanization and Affirming the Humanity of BYMOC and Their Villages

by Edith Arrington; Howard C. Stevenson; Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt Bryant; Ti Kendrick Hall

Nov 1, 2019

Dehumanization is the cause of generations of historical trauma. The cycle begins with negative narratives that label people of color—particularly boys and young men—violent, criminal, and animalistic. To combat the perceived threat, dangerous actions are taken by the majority culture and systems which further dehumanize BYMOC. As a result, BYMOC and their villages often hold harmful internal feelings of unworthiness taught by their oppressors. It is not uncommon for them to engage in various forms of self-harm or to harm others. These destructive external reactions are not explained as normal responses to trauma. Stories of their negative reactions become justification for more negative narratives and the cycle begins again

  • Dehumanization begins with negative narratives about BYMOC. This perceived threat is combated through dangerous actions toward BYMOC that result in harmful internal feelings of unworthiness for BYMOC. These feelings lead to destructive external reactions that are not explained as normal responses to trauma and are therefore treated as justification for the negative narratives. This begins the cycle again.
  • Racialized trauma occurs when the cumulative effect of racism exceeds a person's capacity or resources to cope. Along with trauma studies, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Adverse Community Experiences may be used to understand negative health and well-being outcomes of BYMOC and ability to cope.
  • Dehumanization may be manifested culturally/spiritually by demonizing, disregarding, devaluing and marginalizing practices; socially by failing to invest resources in communities of color; emotionally by limiting expressions of empathy towards communities of color; and physically by placing physical bodies of members of communities of color at risk.
  • Teens of color reporting higher levels of discrimination face many health challenges such as: higher blood pressure, higher body mass index, higher levels of stress-related hormones, poorer sleep, more symptoms of depression, and lower self-esteem.
  • Two frameworks, “Village-raising” and “Heal, Grow, Thrive,” provide the basis to disrupt dehumanization because it shifts the responsibility of healing off young people and puts it on the community infrastructure. Village-raising ensures healthy communication, knowledge of human development, and awareness of dehumanization in this infrastructure while Heal, Grow, Thrive considers stress recovery, growth, and resilience.
  • Culturally responsive programs offer (Stevenson, 2014): Connection – healthy relationships are modeled, built, & maintained; Protection – BYMOC are physically and emotionally safe to express their ideas and strive for their true potential; Affection – harmful internal messages are upended with affirming, healthy affection; Redirection – guidance is offered to those who get off track.
  • Community-based organizations and systems must: Share impacts about culturally responsive programming. Listen to community feedback on how systems currently dehumanize BYMOC. Interrogate assumptions about BYMOC through community-based participatory data. Assess effectiveness by evaluating the extent to which BYMOC are served. Make long-term investments to change practices and policies that adversely impact BYMOC.