The following memo was written by a group of people who participated in the Racing ACEs gathering.
It’s 2016. Local and national protests rise against an ongoing stream of state-sanctioned murders. African-American lives are being lost at a frequency and in a manner that decry ethnic cleansing. Sacred Indigenous land is being desecrated for profit. African-American, Native American, Latino American, Asian American, and poor communities are facing dislocation, police violence, and a range of traumas that compose the frayed ends of America’s historically racist national fabric.
It’s August 2016. In the middle of an election season replete with racially charged rhetoric, immersed in Black Lives Matter actions and the rich local history of social justice movements, a group of practitioners, researchers, and community advocates come together in Richmond, California.
Who we are: We are more than two-dozen carefully selected representatives engaged at the nexus of the trauma-informed and racial justice fields, forming a circle on behalf of our ancestors, our children, and ourselves. What brings us to the room, to the work? Colonialism brought us here. Imperialism brought us here. The spine of western civilization and plunder of nations brought us here. Slavery, ethnic cleansing, all things that made this country possible, that make possible the hoarding of wealth in the hands of a few, all the ramifications of those things, of race as a structure that cages us—that is what brings us here. Oscar Grant brings us here. Mike Brown brings us here. Tamar Rice and Sandra Bland bring us here. Eric Garner. Alex Nieto. Terence Crutcher Korryn Gaines Philando Castile Alton Sterling Anthony Nuñez Jessica Williams Loreal Tsingine … As kin of the murdered, we share an urgent and crucial need to speak. For them. For us.
On the agenda: An exploration of how racial justice – its values, investments, strategies and practices – can be centered at the heart of trauma-informed work. The meeting is called “Racing ACEs,” a reference to the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. Our work, in a fundamental sense, is to race ACEs so that we can explicate the inequitable burden of racial oppression, as well as the intersections of oppression, privilege and liberation in all their forms.
The ambivalence of ACEs: The ACE Study is a valuable tool that brings a wider audience to what clinicians, researchers, and advocates working in the field of child and adolescent trauma have said for decades – confirming that experiences of violence, neglect, and trauma are harmful to a person’s long-term health. For those of us in the room, the opportunity and obligation to leverage the study and its implications is also matched by an ambivalence. The ambivalence that fills the all too common absence of historical trauma and ongoing violence and harm aimed at people of color. This absence has an atmospheric effect that conveys and compounds harmful pathologies surrounding people of color in the midst of ongoing trauma – pathologies that lead to misdiagnosis, mistreatment, and false assignments that render us as problematic and risk-laden. When they are translated into policies, practices, and investments, these inaccurate pathologies further perpetuate and codify racial oppression and the dehumanization of people of color.