by Star Jackson
photo courtesy of: kewon hunter (website: https://kewonhunter.photos/)
In hoods all over America, countless Black boys who grow to become Black men have witnessed horrendous acts of violence while living in what some consider ‘inner-city war zones’. Because of this, thousands of Black boys are tasked with surviving the hood and PTSD. Baltimore, a city that is 63% Black has a crime rate that exceeds the national average. St. Louis, a predominantly Black populated city, is the murder capital of America. Detroit has a concentration of nearly 80% of its residents listed as African American and is highly ranked as one of the most dangerous cites in the United States. All of these cities have a commonality in the fact that they are majority Black and extremely economically underdeveloped. Disadvantaged and poverty-stricken communities statistically have lower employment and educational attainment rates and thus higher crime and imprisonment rates than neighborhoods with more economic wealth. Because of these varying factors that contribute to Black deprivation, the inevitable remains: Black people are marginalized, and the disparities continue to grow. Your socioeconomic status dictates your fate in many cities in America. Zip codes have become the determining factor of life expectancy rates in urban areas and at the center of these statistics is Black boys.
The on-going oppression encountered is certainly enough to trigger post-traumatic stress disorder.
The hardly spoken truth is that Black boys are suffering. The trauma that is faced when witnessing the deaths of their peers, living in impoverished neighborhoods, watching parents struggle to provide, facing systemic racism, dealing with unjust policing and brutality and being denied access to certain class-based economic and educational resources is the foundational cause of their PTSD. The toll that these experiences take on young, Black boys subconsciously and consciously leads to chronic fear and in turn, may lead to constant vigilance or even paranoia, which over time may result in traumatization or contribute to PTSD, (Carter, 2007).
The pressure of navigating through environments that have been methodically created to breed violence and suppress Black prosperity evoke the ‘effect’ to the ‘cause’ of the problem. Subsequently, society has created the false narrative that Black men are inherently violent. The trope that Black men are “dangerously aggressive” and are “thugs” permeates the media’s headlines. Thus, pervasive stereotypes convince the world that Black men have put themselves in disadvantaged positions in society and any wrongdoings on their behalf simply points at their inability to “boot-strap” themselves out of their situations. In turn, distorted understandings and attitudes towards Black males are adopted and lead to negative real-world consequences for them, (Opportunity Agenda, 2019). One of the consequences that is prevalent is lack of emotional support, therefore Black boys are statistically more susceptible to mental health related issues. The US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health has determined that African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious psychological problems than their white counterparts. According to the report, poverty directly affects mental health and African Americans who live at or below the poverty line as compared to those who are twice over the level are three times more likely to suffer from mental health issues.
Survival. For a multitude of Black boys and men who live in the hood, it’s all about getting through the day. More times than not, this means doing whatever it takes to see ‘another 24’. As a result, the connection between deprivation and miseducation induces violence. Until we critically address the underlying issues that poverty and disenfranchisement have caused, Black males will continue to be forced to fight a war that they are ill-equipped to win in order to survive and the distress that is caused from existing in the hood will eat away at them like a ferocious lion feasting on its prey.
So how does a Mother console her child who lost his best friend to gun violence? How does she look him in the eyes and offer comfort? How does she reassure him that things will be okay when she is uncertain herself? My Mother, as strong and resilient as all else could only offer my brother what she had: a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear because unfortunately, professional help was not a fiscal option. Consequently, Tupac’s ‘So Many Tears’ became the battle cry anthem and therapeutic release for my brother following the death of his best friend. He also wrote raps and stayed high to cope with the pain; which seems to be a hood remedy that offers no real healing at all. Shortly after Andre was killed, another one of my brother’s peers was murdered, and another one months later. A vicious cycle that has yet to stop repeating.
For Black boys like my brother who have grieved in silence, who are forced to carry on without any counseling or therapy after losing a loved one, who have lived in a state of shock for so long from post-traumatic stress that the hood has caused, I offer this:
What traps you, must also free you. There will come a time when you realize that the same place that pulled triggers force bullets to drop bodies that leave the hood to mourn the immortal on airbrushed shirts is the same source that sparks the genius of the world. The hood is a gift and curse. Although the world may see you as less than, know that you are the warriors of each day’s tomorrow. With all odds stacked against you your perseverance is what ‘they’ fear. The beauty in the things that you are capable of is not defined by what you’ve been through; there’s power in knowing that. I pray that you may one day truly see that you are your brother’s keeper. But the weight is not all on you, as the system was built to suppress. Society’s views that have been placed upon you are merely a falsehood of lies. Just know that you are capable of soaring so long as you believe you can. And even if you don’t, understand that hood ni**as are royal too!
“I suffered through the years and shed so many tears.” – Tupac Amaru Shakur
R.I.P Andre, and to all the Andres’ of the world. Forever in our hearts.
AZ DPS. (2010).Arizona Department of Public Safety. Crime in Arizona Reports.
AZ Annual Report (PDF). (2017). Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
Carter, R. T. (2007). Racism and psychological and emotional injury: Recognizing and assessing race-based traumatic stress. The Counseling Psychologist.
The Opportunity Agenda. (2019). Media portrayals and black male outcomes. TOA Publications.
US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. (2016). Mental Health Data/Statistics. OMH.