Part of a series by NKY’s nonprofits who stand together against racism and any acts that dehumanize people.
By Jane Hermes
Family Nurturing Center
Difficult subjects. These days, there are a lot of them. Families avoid talking about politics because of high passions and sharp divisions. We’re all experiencing pandemic fatigue, and once-casual references to personal activities – dinners with friends, a trip out of town or a visit with family – become points of contention.
Sometimes it’s best to avoid difficult subjects, but some subjects – as painful as they are – simply must be brought out into the open.
Racism is one such topic. The everyday struggles that Black Americans face are struggles that no American should face; not in 2020, not ever. African Americans are more likely to be suspended in school, be searched during a traffic stop, be incarcerated as adults, be denied a loan, have shorter life spans…this list goes on.
It’s uncomfortable to talk about, so we simply avoid the conversation, somehow believing that acknowledging it will make it more real, when it is already too real, too prevalent, too damaging, not only to those who experience it daily but also to our community, our country, our world.
Talking about it is an essential first step. Facing uneasy truths about our own unconscious biases, our society, and the inequalities built into long-established systems and processes can mark the beginning of the end to systemic racism.
Systemic racism remains a tragic part of the American experience, and the child welfare system is not immune from its tentacles. African American children are not more likely to experience child abuse, but they are nearly twice as likely to be identified as victims by the child welfare system, and 2.1 times more likely to be in foster care. As with the justice and educational systems, there is simply a different standard, different experience and different outcomes for people of color as compared to their white counterparts.
Starting difficult conversations, and continuing the dialogue, is not new to us at Family Nurturing Center. Child abuse is another painful topic our society tries hard to avoid, but ignoring it doesn’t change the facts. Kentucky leads the nation in rates of abuse and neglect, and experts report that it’s not just the numbers, but also the severity of cases, that’s gotten worse over the years.
The magnitude of the issue – 42 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse in our country, more than 20,000 confirmed cases of abuse in KY, and nearly 8,000 of KY’s children living apart from their families- can result in us turning the page of latest newspaper report, turning the channel when graphic images are too hard to bear, and turning our minds and hearts to easier topics of conversation. More than startling statistics or tragic stories, one of the biggest challenges in ending child abuse is the stubborn and unrealistic belief that it happens in other neighborhoods, to other children, and impacts other families.
Our steadfast refusal to see child abuse as everyone’s problem means that we don’t take responsibility that everyone has a role to play in solving it. Like child abuse, racism is traumatic, pervasive, and preventable when we all become part of the solution.
Some say talk is cheap, and clearly, it has to be followed with action to have any lasting impact. Child abuse thrives in a culture of silence, and perpetrators rely on our discomfort to perpetuate harm to children and have it continue unchecked. Likewise, our systems rely on us to stay quiet and keep the status quo in place to protect those practices that perpetuate racial injustices. In these days of the 24-hour news cycle, where we continue to turn the page on topics that are too uncomfortable and be rewarded with a new story tomorrow, the need to keep the dialogue moving forward can’t be overstated.
Racism, like child abuse, won’t end by simply talking about it. But courageous conversations are critical to changing hearts, minds, and most importantly, behaviors. Protecting children is the responsibility of every single adult. Anything less will means that the cycle of abuse will continue. Ending racism is the responsibility of all of us. Anything less means that we’ll be avoiding this conversation – and bearing the consequences of racial inequities – for years to come.
Jane Herms, MSW, is Executive Director of the Family Nurturing Center.
Family Nurturing Center exists to end the cycle of child abuse. With locations in Florence, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio, we have a wide range of free, evidenced-based and trauma-informed services to help children, adults and families overcome the impact of abuse. For more than forty years, we’ve provided free, innovative and effective education, prevention and treatment services in our community.
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