Baltimore Uprising: The “Resiliency” of Our Youth

Kimberly R. Moffitt is associate professor of American Studies and affiliate assistant professor of Africana Studies and Language, Literacy & Culture at UMBC.

[Remarks prepared for the UMBC teach-in on May 1, 2015]

Kimberly MoffittI speak to you today not as Kimberly Moffitt, media scholar, but Kimberly Moffitt the parent of two brown children who attend Baltimore City Public Schools and as a founder of the Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys Public Charter Schools, which opens its doors to 264 boys in Fall 2015.

The recent rioting and looting in Baltimore included participation by some school-aged children, which reveal to some and confirmed for others the pent-up frustration and bitterness of these young people – and the trauma that has been inflicted upon them.

Yet, we often use rhetoric to promote the notion of how “resilient” children, in particular, are in a multitude of situations. Well, let’s see…

Resilient is defined as the ability to withstand or recover quickly form difficult conditions.

Difficult conditions like the 2014 American Psychological Association study that concluded that “black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence” as other children and “are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime.” Or another recent report on school discipline that suggests black girls are often seen as “unsophisticated, hypersexualized, and defiant,” and as a result, receive more subjective (and punitive) consequences for their behavior.

Difficult conditions like the statistic that shows that Baltimore City’s school-based arrests account for 90 percent of all such arrests statewide, leaving the remaining 10 percent to be accounted for among the rest of Maryland’s counties.

Difficult conditions like those that inform us that only 1 in 10 black males are reading on grade level by 4th grade in Baltimore City.

Difficult conditions like those in urban centers like Baltimore whose students experience subpar living conditions as a result of abject poverty, drugs, crime, and violence affecting their communities, and in turn, their mental health.

That may be seen as resiliency by some, but I see it as resiliency is the main dish with a side of psychological scarring and trauma, yet we expect NO reaction from the youth.

When will we all question our implicit biases toward black children and realize that the answer cannot be to continue regulating them, but to find ways to relate and educate them well? As long as these young people are viewed as “menaces to society” that must be managed and contained with use of force, then incidents occurring in our schools with school police and those of Monday’s response, will not only continue, but also escalate.

The systemic denigration of our children and the underacknowledgement of the psychological trauma upon their black bodies has reached a boiling point that does not require additional force, but a renewed foundation. As as a community we should come together to strategize ways to cultivate healthy relationships with students and ensure the necessary support mechanisms are in place to help those most in need, such as mental health support and greater educational opportunities.

Will we continue to allow fear of young black bodies to dictate our decision making, or are we willing to do the work necessary to see our students as the children they are who require guidance, love, affirmation of self-worth and a reminder that the use of violence is never the right answer? Only then will the word resiliency be used aptly.

Contact the author, Kimberly Moffitt, at kmoffitt@umbc.edu.

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