Poverty, infant mortality, stress and community violence are all issues that African-Americans deal with at a disproportionately higher rate than whites.
While these barriers might not be obvious to some, Tania Lodge isn’t asking that everyone see them. She just wants everyone to acknowledge and validate their presence.
“The barriers are only invisible to those seemingly unaffected by it,” said Lodge, the clinical director of the Minority Behavioral Health Group. “When it’s invisible to you, sometimes we’re not as sensitive or understanding or can respond in a way that can be helpful or productive.”
Lodge gave a presentation Sunday sharing insights about creating a better understanding and awareness of the African-American experience, along with information about how to build better cross-cultural relationships, at the Dominican Sisters of Peace Motherhouse.
The presentation was part of an ongoing group of discussions called “Building Racial Harmony” presented by the Northeast Ohio Racial Justice Committee, which is a committee formed by the Dominican Sisters and Associates of Peace.
For Lodge, the key to awareness is all about building a better understanding of where the issues stem from in the first place: systematic oppression that dates back hundreds of years from enslavement, segregation and mass incarceration.
“These significant time periods are what have set a foundation, a psychology, an understanding of how we tend to think of African-Americans, and unfortunately, how African-Americans tend to view themselves,” Lodge said. “This is a mindset that has continued for generations.”
Lodge defines systematic oppression as the mistreatment of a group of people by society and institutions based in the inherent belief that one is superior over the other.
It’s a barrier experienced by the black community every single day.
Its presence is obvious in the numbers. About 25 percent of black people in the country live in poverty — a cyclical issue — as compared to less than 10 percent of whites, Lodge said.
Because of that, children receive poor education, which leads to a lack of tools and resources, which leads to a lack of role models, which often leads to a life of crime and violence.
Poverty even impacts the youngest members of the community, as a huge disparity exists between the infant mortality rate between African-American and white babies, especially in Summit County.
Lodge contends that poverty isn’t the only issue accountable for high infant mortality rates in the black community. It’s also the high levels of stress that mothers experience from racism, which leads to problems for the babies as well.
Oppression has a severe psychological impact on African-Americans, Lodge said, leading to paranoia, anxiety, low self-efficacy, aggression, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and more.
It’s an issue Dolores Drone, who attended the presentation, can attest to.
“You’ve got to be super strong to be black in this country,” said Drone, a therapist and clinical supervisor at Minority Behavioral Health Group.
Lodge said that the key to beginning to tackle racism and developing better cross-cultural relationships is to acknowledge and understand the unique struggles that African-Americans face in this country.
That comes through analyzing your own world view and continuing to have difficult discussions about the problems at hand.
“When we don’t have these discussions, it just continues to perpetuate the problem,” Lodge said.
Theresa Cottom-Bennett can be reached at 330-996-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.