Dignity in the face of “hood disease”

welcome to Oakland

The headline for this recent story from a CBS affiliate in San Francisco reads “Inner City Oakland Youth Suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” But the report colloquially describes the CDC-designated PTSD in inner city children as “hood disease” due to the sheer amount of and constant exposure to death in East Oakland.

According to the piece, last year alone, Fremont High School had 47 lockdowns from threats. Roughly two-thirds of recorded murders occurred in East Oakland. Slightly more than 20 percent of residents in the greater area live beneath the federal poverty line. Within the zip code that Fremont serves the percentage of children living in poverty ranges from 20 to 50 percent in some Census tracts.

Teachers and administrators describe the school environment:

“These cards that (students) are suddenly wearing around their neck that say ‘Rest in peace.’ You have some kids that are walking around with six of them. Laminated cards that are tributes to their slain friends,” said teacher Jasmene Miranda.

Jaliza Collins, also a teacher at Fremont, said, “It’s depression, it’s stress, it’s withdrawal, it’s denial. It’s so many things that is encompassed and embodied in them. And when somebody pushes that one button where it can be like, ‘please go have a seat,’ and that can be the one thing that just sets them off.

When people speak of how important the social determinants of health are something like PTSD probably doesn’t come to mind, but in these cases it should. Paying the kind of scarcity tax in this environment is unthinkable. Combined with what we know about the long-term health effects of poverty this is incredibly alarming and utterly unacceptable.

Forget the ambition-stunting nature of food stamps; try dreaming while dodging bullets and wearing the placards of dead friends as accessory apparel. Instead we’ll hashtag shake-our-damn-heads and later wonder why, when these high-schoolers survive into the adult world of high poverty and low-wage work, they don’t properly hold the dignity of a well-adjusted WASPy ethos.


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