On Hate and Bias: Youth Speak Out

Youth at San Mateo County’s Youth Services Center (YSC) shared their stories in a Photovoice program hosted by the Office of Diversity and Equity (ODE). Youth members responded to the question: “What do you wish for your future?” and “Do you feel like you have control over your future?” Youth expressed unmet needs to have their strengths and values recognized, that they are often portrayed as ‘problem children’, that they enjoy mental health services, and that they have been affected by trauma— their mistreatment a consequence of hate and bias. They worked hard to create the best Photovoices they could.

In her photovoice, an anonymous youth shares her experience of being mistreated, “People view me as a mean, rude, ugly person. If only they knew I was so nice, respectful and beautiful. I try to ignore people. I wish people knew me for me and where I come from and why I am who I am. In my future I hope people will not look at me as that but more like strong, loving and smart…” This young woman expresses the feeling of safety in keeping to herself, but that she is perceived to be ignoring people. She claims that people bias towards her gets in the way of truly understanding why she likes to keep to herself: her past trauma.

This young person’s story is very similar to her peers, who feel misunderstood and mistreated by the people who are in place to serve them— YSC general staff, probation, teachers, etc. In another Photovoice, a young man writes about the negative labeling and mistreatment he receives as a Mexican-American, “The assistant principal telling me I can’t when I really could: ‘You ain’t going nowhere in life. Mexicans are not good in this country.’ How could she say something like that when she’s also Latina?”

The deficit-based fictionalization and labeling of Chican@s in the United States has influenced institutions to approach these students as disadvantaged. In her article, “Whose culture has capital?” Tara J. Yosso, a scholar whose research draws on the frameworks of critical race theory and LatCrit theory, comments on the effects of micro-aggressions towards Chican@s and Mexican-Americans in the United States. She writes, “schools most often work from this assumption in structuring ways to help ‘disadvantaged’ students whose race and class background has left them lacking necessary knowledge, social skills, abilities and cultural capital.”

To combat this issue, Yosso introduces “Community Cultural Wealth” as a thought model that will add value to Chican@s in the United States. Replacing the barriers that a cultural deficit model suggests, such as a person’s difficulty speaking english, Community Cultural Wealth offers alternatives, such as the value of bilingualism in the work environment. In addition to the aforementioned linguistic capital, Yosso also introduces aspirational capital, familial capital, social capital, resistant capital, and navigational capital.

As an institution, we need to recognize the strengths of all of the communities we work with, to change the deficit-based thinking that is common toward communities that suffer the consequences of hate and bias.

This post was written by storytelling program specialist, Siavash Zohoori.

View more Photovoice stories at: smchealth.org/stories