A viral clip which used the term “Hood Disease” to describe the impact of trauma from living in violent inner-cities raised eyebrows last week. Turns out it should have.
The term was used in a story during last Friday’s 11 o’clock newscast and was posted to the web site of KPIX-TV, a CBS network affiliate in San Francisco. The story described “children [who] often live in virtual war zones…they often experience trauma, repeatedly.” It also cited research from the Centers for Disease Control that stated 30 percent of inner-city youth suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition most commonly associated with military personnel returning from conflict zones.
It sounds plausible, except that “Hood Disease” doesn’t exist. No researcher or trauma specialist has ever uttered the phrase. Neither Harvard doctors, nor CDC researchers were interviewed for the piece, which was reported by KPIX’s Wendy Tokuda.
“I so regret using the term 'Hood Disease' which is not a term either the CDC uses or HARVARD,” Tokuda explained in an email to EBONY. “That came from a resident in Oakland, and we seized on it. It is my fault.” The piece, she wrote, was about children suffering from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Most of the report focused on inner-city youth and violence. It shows teachers from an East Oakland, Calif., high school discussing the challenge of teaching students preoccupied with violence and poverty. B-roll depicts students walking the halls with laminated pictures of befallen friends dangling from their necks like morbid jewelry. It’s a story that could have aired in any major city on any night of the year. That is, except for the “Hood Disease” phrase, which was uttered about 45 seconds into the piece.
“Even the Centers for Disease Control says that these kids often live in virtual war zones. And doctors at Harvard say they actually suffer from a more complex form of PTSD. Some call it ‘Hood Disease’,” Tokuda says in her intro. Spokespeople for both Harvard’s School of Public Health and the Centers for Disease control said they’d done no such report and hadn’t been part of the station’s reporting.
Ironically, the report starts with another KPIX anchor mentioning the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended legalized school segregation in the US, before throwing the newscast over to Tokuda.
The story drew immediate attention from other media, especially websites with primarily Black audiences. The Root followed KPIX’s story the next day under the headline “Doctors Say ‘Hood Disease’ Threatens Inner City Youth.” News One followed up under a similar headline, but linked to The Root’s piece instead of the original report. Global Grind declared, “Hood Disease? Harvard Doctors Say Inner City Youth Suffer from PTSD, Give It Discriminative Name.” The Conservative hub Brietbart.com, named for it's late creator who is best known for the fabricated Shirley Sherrod scandal, cried, “HOOD DISEASE': CALIFORNIA'S INNER CITY YOUTH SUFFERING FROM NEW FORM OF PTSD.”
Amani Nuru-Jeter, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkley’s School of Public Health, said that media latching onto a term like “Hood Disease” wasn’t just inaccurate, but problematic because it could further stigmatize people already living in troubled communities.
“The word ‘disease’ connotes a clinical disorder. That sounds preposterous to me because I don’t know of any research that shows that there’s something inherent to living in an inner city that can be diagnosed,” she said.
“To call it ‘Hood Disease’ suggests that there’s something specific about living in the hood–and have we even defined what that means? What about other areas that are predominantly populated by low-income Whites? I think there’s a spin on the idea. It veers toward blaming the victim.”
Keith Reed is a writer living in Connecticut. Follow him on Twitter: @K_dot_re