According to Massey and Tannen, 26% of all African Americans in the United States live in hypersegregated metropolitan areas. Among African Americans living in metropolitan areas, 53.1% of African Americans live in metropolitan areas characterized as highly segregated or hypersegregated. Racially segregated Black neighborhoods create high- risk landscapes that increase the threat to Black lives, whether in the form of disproportionate exposure to lead poison and toxic waste, educational inequality, redlining, subpriming, or transit inequity. Racial segregation escalates danger in all forms for residents who live in disinvested, redlined Black neighborhoods, creating what we call “high- riskscapes” where the threat of death and harm are perceived as immanent rather than far off, especially for black youth and emerging adults.
High-riskscapes alter risk portfolios and perceptions of residents’ risk and place concerns for health, education, employment, STIs, alcohol, and substance use low on the list of concern because the threat of violence and the exposure of cumulative community violence mandates of survival in environments of concentrated poverty and unresolved traumas (historical trauma and the epigenetic effect) rank as primary concerns.
For almost two-decades, exposure to community violence has been designated a “public health epidemic” for adolescents and young adults residing in economically-disadvantaged, urban neighborhoods (U.S. Surgeon General 2001). Not only is community violence an enduring public health challenge in many high-poverty, urban communities (Tung et al., 2018), exposure to community violence/trauma in early life may profoundly affect a youth’s development in multiple domains from early childhood into adolescence and beyond (Griffin, Bradshaw, & Furr-Holden, 2009). Community violence affects all racial and ethnic groups, but African Americans living in low-income urban neighborhoods experience higher rates of community violence and crime than other racial and ethnic groups (Crouch et al., 2000). Alarmingly, several studies document that between 45% and 96% of urban, African American youth have witnessed violence in their communities, ranging from assault to murder (Gaylord-Harden, Cunningham, & Zelencik, 2011), and 16% to 37% of youth have reported being victims of aforementioned violence (Spano & Bolland, 2013). Growing up under the conditions of adversity by being victims of violence or witnessing violence has long-term effects. (Center on the Developing Child, 2019).
Significant early adversity can lead to lifelong problems. Toxic stress experienced early in life and common precipitants of toxic stress—such as poverty, abuse or neglect, parental substance abuse or mental illness, mass incarceration, education inequalities and exposure to violence—can have a cumulative toll on an individual’s physical and mental health (Center on the Developing Child, 2019). Among our youth, the “struggle for existence” requires extraordinary coping skills. To face the immense challenges of high-risk scapes, exposure to community violence, lead poisoning, school safety, and a cadre of other adversities, they must adjust to the hardships associated with learning how to survive.
SurvivornomicsTM is a term coined that emerged from a theory developed by public health scholars and activist at Morgan State University’s School of Community Health and Policy identified as the Perceived Risk Hierarchy Theory TM (PRHT) (article found in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved May 2017, 28 (2).