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April 7, 2013

Building Resiliency: Healing through Integration and Solidarity

Giovania Tiarachristie, April 7, 2013

By G Tiarachriste

“We just need to sit together and have a meal, we’ve been too segregated.” –David Orr

Amongst the repeated jokes, the terrifying image of babies swiping iPads, and Meadow’s 12 leverage points, this statement by David Orr resonated with me the most. Although this comment was in response to the lack of common vision on Climate Change and the need to ‘convince people’ in the language they spoke, I was processing it in imagining the people leading forward the climate change movement to really listen to the concerns of those who don’t think Climate Change as their most important issue and allow their grounds to move. At first, cynicism hit me from my experiences working with community members in revitalization and the issues of race and class in Carlisle and Harrisburg—I immediately jumped to the bare impossibility of people even sitting down at the same table without sitting separately along race or class markers.

Because of how power and privilege has worked historically in the U.S. some people of color don’t even feel their voices and attempts are considered or matter in the community development decision process, dominated by white affluent men. People have rolled their eyes at white educated and affluent individuals declaring what they think they know the greatest need and concerns of the community are. For some, building resiliency is enabling the return to ‘what things were like’ by asking the question “What do you want to preserve?” But for many people of color, especially low income, things were not great the way they were or are. Everyday, low-income minority communities face the personal battle of hope and the taunting American dream against the historical disadvantages that have disenfranchised groups and trapped people in the generational cycles of poverty, mass incarceration, racial discrimination, and public denial of all of the above. Then, ‘urban renewal’ projects prompt gentrification, pushing out the sense control that is left of residents over their environment and culture. Many people of color are tired of feeling like these issues they face everyday are once again thrown in the backseat to prioritize the issues of white communities. Most redevelopment and planning programs fail to really ask or grant residents their agency. What if we asked: “What is it exactly you need? What do you want to eliminate and create? How can meet the needs and mission of what you are building here?” Or just purely showed love and solidarity.

Due to the massive socio-spatial segregation and lack of cultural competency on either polarized sides, people don’t even have the language to talk about this tension. Conversation is thus avoided or results in extreme conflict because (1) groups have different understandings of what race is (biological taboo or a social construct/conflict) and (2) groups have different perceptions of how the conversation will turn out (as white guilt and being accused as racist, or as experiencing direct racism and denial of white privilege). As David Orr said in response to the increase use of technology, “we have become autistic to each other,” the same way power and privilege in this country along race-class lines has made us autistic to each other’s real needs and concerns.

Reading Anne Harrington’s The Cure Within about the history of mind-body medicine in my Spiritual Dimensions of Healing Class is making me rethink what exactly “building community resiliency” means. Chapter 7 of The Cure Within is about the healing power of community ties—of family intimacy in the emotional and thus physical resiliency of people. For example, a study done in the 60’s and 70’s of males in Roseto, Pennsylvania, an all-Italian working class immigrant community living in the midst of poverty, revealed that men from this area had the lowest rate of coronary heart disease across all ages compared to other neighborhoods that were not as socially cohesive. People would walk in and out of each others’ houses, had lots of festivals and family landmarks, and there was no notion of “keeping up with the Joneses.” The authors of this study, Wolf and Bruhn, pointed to this heart-healthiness to “the power of the clan.”  However, in the mid to late 1960’s, new generations of Rosetans abandoned the ways of the “old people” and started marrying non-Italians, moved to suburban houses, joining country clubs, taking up golf, and followed the American dream lifestyle. In 1971, the first heart attack of a person younger than 45 years occurred in the town, and despite new efforts to cut down on smoking and fat consumption, in the following decade, hypertension tripled, strokes increased, and the number of fatal heart attacks in the town had risen to the national average. The transition to modernity’s pace of lifestyle and thus the breaking down of community ties had made residents in the community more susceptible physical illnesses induced by the stresses of modernity. The author prescribed a recommitment to community and intimacy.

I think the same way in building the physical resiliency of individuals, we need to build the resiliency of communities starting with integration and building community ties and solidarity. I purposefully used the word building rather than recommitting/returning community intimacy is because historically, the intimacy of different race-class groups in the United States never existed like the Rosetans due to stark inequalities. In fact, after integration movements and laws through the 60’s and 80’s, they only spatially and culturally resegregated in less declarably discriminatory. We cannot claim that we know what a truly integrated community looks like yet. Through innovating integration and building the foundation to confront inequity, we would start a process of healing communities of the pains of discrimination and guilt through building empathy, understanding, compassion, and honest conversation. Fancy solar powered roofs, green art districts, and green vegetable belts could have amazing impacts of building resiliency of a community against climate change, but I argue that a bigger threat unaddressed is this lack of cultural competency and extreme race-class inequality in this nation that are crippling any attempt to build solidarity and resilience.

Healing is the first step to Resilience.


“The Greek language comes out with another word for love. It is the word agape. And agape is more than eros; agape is more than philia; agape is something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it’s what theologians would call the love of God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them. You look at every man, and you love him because you know God loves him.” –MLK 17 November 1957

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