ACEs Resilience Initiative Focus on Racial Equity

Background on the ACEs Initiative Focus on Racial Equity

While the findings from the original ACE study were groundbreaking, the people in that study were disproportionately white, employed, insured, college-educated and middle income.

Flojaune Cofer, PhD, MPH, senior director of policy at Public Health Advocates, states:

“We have to think about who is missing … and ask ‘How does (ACEs science) exactly fit in when talking about people who are not white, middle class, employed and insured? What do the adverse childhood experiences look like then?’”

According to Cofer, safety is a basic need and we cannot limit our idea about community to our immediate surroundings. We must consider what happens in the wider community when people of color are questioned or shot in their own apartments or cars or homes.

Cofer suggested that ACEs research and surveys will be more relevant to diverse populations and reflective of how racism plays a role in people’s experiences, health and well-being when we consider the following factors: juvenile justice involvement, foster care involvement, deportation, homelessness, food insecurity, disproportionate school expulsions, suspensions and bullying.

Racism and Implicit Bias

Also, we must look at ourselves, especially if we are in the dominant culture, to understand what racism is and how it works and how implicit bias can impact our work and those we work with.

Understanding Racism

According to Dr. Cofer, “the new racism is to deny racism exists,” which she said is partly because some believe only in blatant racism, which she called “Disney racism” – racism that is so obvious, unfair and wrong that “even a 3-year old can pick up on it.” She said many people are unaware that racism can take other forms, which she broke down as follows:

4 levels of racism:

1)  Personally mediated racism – The blatantly wrong “Disney racism.”

2)  Cultural racism – Which group characteristics are valued? Who do we see as valuable or not valuable in the wider society?

3)  Internalized racism – When we believe the things, mostly negative, that have been said about our own group.

4)  Institutionalized racism – Formal and informal policies and practices that perpetuate inequity, such as discriminatory practices, policies and structures. An example of institutionalized racism is the disproportionate marijuana-associated arrests of people of color, which Cofer said had “nothing to do with marijuana use patterns.” For example, when arrested for marijuana some people-of-color went to prison and some were charged with felonies. However, even those who were not incarcerated or convicted faced hardships or challenges with immigration, housing, employment or the child welfare system as a result of that institutionalized racism. Cofer explained that “this is a type of community trauma we can’t ignore.”

“We have to think about community and historical trauma arising from systems and do it while recognizing how race and bias can be baked into our understanding of ACEs,” Cofer said.

That’s something that also shows up as implicit bias. According to Cofer, implicit bias shows up in “attitudes and stereotypes that affect how we understand the world,” often unconsciously. For example, she said, split-second decisions that are biased against a particular group are reflective of the family and society in which we are raised.

Why is implicit bias so important? Because, explained Cofer, it is not random and often results in decisions that “favor the dominant group.” Because implicit bias may differ from our stated beliefs, explained Cofer, we might not realize that it is influencing us or shaping who and what we recognize, respond and work to remedy.

Continuous Learning

ACEs Resilience Initiative members have developed an extensive list of equity-related articles, books and blogs with the intention of offering a variety of options for those just beginning to understand equity issues as well as more seasoned students in equity issues.

If you are just beginning to examine the topic of equity, we recommend that you find a partner or group to come along with you.

If you have additional resources related to health equity and trauma that could be included in this resource list, please send titles and links to Lisheema Barr at lbarr@safechildnc.org.

ACEs Resilience Initiative Coordinator
Lisheema Barr
lbarr@safechildnc.org