Are the Children Well?

Categories: Food Deserts

The use of Euro-American based theories and practices that have little regard for the differences in how they apply to the African American child.

This means that the school experience dehumanizes African American students (Johnson, 2001). The current educational system does not seem to be designed to empower parents, nor does it seem to have as its mission to educate children in a manner that will allow them to create sustainable economic freedom and independence. Specifically, this is true for the African American child. Current education policy may not intentionally try to harm black students, but it has been developed in an anti-black framework. (Nelson and Williams, 2018). School’s promise educational opportunities but for the urban African American child the likelihood of their education leading to a greater social or educational mobility is unlikely (Dumas, 2014). This is further demonstrated as Black students are criminalized early and often in their schooling environments (Nelson and Williams, 2018).

What determines what a child needs to develop successfully? Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow that describes what he proposes to be necessary for an individual’s well-being (Maslow, 1987).

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The five levels in the model include physiological, safety, love and belongingness, self-esteem and self-actualization. First, physiological is defined as what a human-needs for survival such as air, food, drink, shelter, clothing, warmth and sleep. Second, safety is defined as protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, and freedom from fear. Third, love and belongingness involve feelings of being a part of something which may is a need for interpersonal relationships motivates behavior, such as friendship, intimacy, trust, and acceptance.

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Next, esteem needs are defined as esteem for oneself and the desire for reputation or respect from others which is most important for children, adolescents and precede real self-esteem or dignity. Finally, self-actualization is the realization of personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences which can be described as a desire to become everything one is capable of becoming.

For the purposes of this paper, the author will address specific trauma on the young child and that young child’s reaction to the residual effects of slavery. The role of the family, school, and community in the overall recovery from this historical trauma cannot be ignored or avoided as this child will require the entire system to achieve what is necessary to be successful. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory of human development details the processes and conditions that govern the lifelong course of human development in the actual environments in which humans live. This model rooted in Levin’s Theory of Psychological fields emphasizes the importance of understanding bio-directional influences between an individuals’ development and their surrounding environmental contexts. The passing of time is also a part of the model as a means to understand how people and environments change over time. According to the child trauma model, the impact of trauma is pronounced for Blacks because systemic racism and the intersection of gender and class hinders access to protective resources that buffer the impact of trauma while exposing them to more risk factors (Johnson, 2018).

It has been established that the structure of slavery was designed to belittle and dehumanize a race of people. It has confirmed that the intent was for the slave to NOT have self-esteem. We know from the stories of slaves that slaves were purposefully made to feel unsafe and forced to live in subhuman conditions. This experience was intentionally pervasive and has had a cumulative impact that affects multiple generations through family transmission (Nicolai and Saus, 2013). Thus, if we are to use the Euro-American construct of what a human being needs to develop and progress into a state of well-being, wholeness, successfulness, and prosperity it is evident that the slave was destined for a state of ill-being, misery, and suffering. However, the slave found ways to resist the system. In spite of the systemic oppression that consumed their world, the slave parent was resilient and crafted a world that met their physiological needs as well as it had purpose, respect, love, and safety. For the slave family’s child, this experience looked like one that was bereft of the basic human needs, lacked proper safety and stability, disconnected from their familial unit, absent of respect and limited opportunities a future with meaning and purpose. From the middle passage to the plantation all of these basic needs that Maslow indicated were in short supply for the slave community who was instead forced to endure trauma that has transcended generations in forms of oppressive economic, educational, and social systems. The manifestation of historical trauma on the slave child can best be understood through not only the trauma lens but also the critical race theory and European and pan-African child development theories.

Historical trauma is the intentional, pervasive and cumulative trauma that affects a specific group and transcends generations through family transmission (Nicolai and Saus, 2013). The symptoms are: somatic (of the body, distinct of the mind), psychological, physical, suicidal behaviors, anxiety, substance abuse, disrupted relationships, diagnosable disorders and spiritual (related to grief caused by colonization and depression). Graff (2011) notes that slavery as historical trauma is barely even acknowledged in trauma literature. The reason is likely that the history of slavery is difficult to understand with vivid images of beatings and lynching. The specifics and details call into question a person’s character then and now. Those are often challenges people are ill-prepared or unwilling to discuss. Bell (2014) contends that it is this inability to face and learn the lessons from the past that prevents the work required to shift the culture to deal honestly and openly about racial issues.

Bygone generational trauma impacts the rate of development of the self-actualization facet because families affected by historical trauma often struggle to provide even the most basic of human needs. For example, affordable housing issues are prevalent among families affected by historical trauma. These families struggle to find adequate housing due to the gentrification of neighborhoods that have the unintended (or intended) purpose of displacing families’ due to lack of affordable housing and public transportation. The impoverished live in areas that are under-resourced and underserviced neighborhoods; they are frequently limited in their access to banking, healthcare, retail merchandise, grocery stores, and food services and educational institutions.

Families also struggle with the decreased availability of healthy food in their neighborhoods. Food deserts are defined as geographic pockets without access to supermarkets which is a problem disproportionately impacting low-income communities and communities of color (Deener, 2017). Many communities not only have food deserts, but they also have school deserts. Communities must work to eliminate school deserts because of the destabilizing impact they have on poor black urban communities (Nelson and Williams, 2018). However, the proposed solution is not as easy as giving parent’s school choice because choosing a school does not overcome systemic oppression that exists within the community (Nelson and Williams, 2018).

The lack of access to both basic needs such as food and housing and schools means that African American parents continue to struggle as they help their children navigate this oppressive system. In the Maslow model, the foundation is actually (basic needs of breathing, food, water, sleep, etc.). For the traumatized family, these basic needs are actually an unreachable goal. Whereas, the ultimate goal, according to Maslow, which is finding one’s purpose is one that the traumatized African American family focuses on which allows them to have a sense of purpose, meaning and problem-solving. Sadly, what is far-reaching and almost unattainable for African American families are the physiological needs, safety, and love and belonging.

Proposed Alternate Frameworks

It is at this point in the analysis that I purport that we must transpose Maslow’s hierarchy of needs triangle which posits that what is otherwise considered the foundation for an individual’s well-being is actually the most difficult level for African American families to achieve. The theory proposed by Maslow works to address the developmental needs of European American children, but it falls short because it does not account for the historical trauma that impacts the development of current day African American children. The needs of children who have experienced or been exposed to trauma often go unmet due to lack of knowledge or failure to identify (Cummings, Addante, Swindell and Meadan, 2017).

African Americans have always had a “fake it till you make it” mentality which is one of the ways they have manifested their dreams. Their confidence, and uniqueness in spite of their lot in life are what is often threatening to non-black people. How trauma has impacted the overall development of this community’s well-being means that young African American children begin life from a position in society that was determined before they were born. The

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Are the Children Well?. (2022, Apr 14). Retrieved from

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