Root shock: how the destruction of black communities hurt the US

Imágen de 1984 en Gainsboro, cuya destrucción es descrita en "Root Shock"

“Our landmark gone, no description of what happened. Nobody cares after they’ve accomplished their purpose”. Charles Meadows, displaced after demolitions in Roanoke, Virginia, interviewed by Mindy Fullilove (2004:107).

Mindy THOMPSON FULLILOVE, psychiatrist and teacher at Columbia, calls “root shock” the trauma suffered by 1600 Afro-American communities (as she estimates) displaced from the city centres as an effect of urban renewal policies starting from 1949. In her book Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It (2004, NY:Ballantine), she uses the metaphor of transplantation, a trauma after which, if repeated, many plants can’t recover, to describe the multiple effects of demolitions, of the loss of familiar space, of displacement, on these communities that were born from the mass migration of former slaves from the South in the beginning of the 20th century. Fullilove maintains that even the transition from the pleasure of jazz, born in the old ghettos, to the anger of rap, product of the new peripheries, is a manifestation of root shock; it is a trauma for those who suffer it, and for society as a whole, since it brings an increase in social disintegration, in collective anger, in segregation, both ethnic and social.

p.14: Root shock, at the level of the individual, is a profound emotional upheaval that destroys the working model of the world that had existed in the individual head. Root shock undermines trust, increases anxiety about letting loved ones out of one’s sight, destabilizes relationships, destroys social, emotional, and financial resources, and increases the risk for every kind of stress-related disease, from depression to heart attack. Root shock leaves people chronically cranky, barking a distinctive croaky complaint that their world was abruptly taken away.

Root shock, at the level of the local community, be it neighborhood or something else, ruptures bonds, dispersing people to all the directions of the compass. Even if they manage to regroup, they are not sure what to do with one another. People who were near are too far, and people who were far are too near. The elegance of the neighborhood – each person in his social and geographic slot – is destroyed, and even if the neighborhood is rebuilt exactly as it was, it won’t work. The restored geography is not enough to repair the many injuries to the mazeway”.

  • See also Mindy Fullilove (2001) “Root Shock: the consequences of African American Disposession”, Journal of Urban Health, bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, vol.78 n.1 [PDF][web] :: Review by Stefano Portelli in GeocritiQ (spanish) [link]
  • Rootshock.org, Community Research Group of New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University webpage :: Review of Root Shock by Eva-Maria Simms, Environmental & Architectural Phenomenology Newsletter.
  • Some of the Afro-American neighbourhoods in which Fullilove developed her research: Commonwealth, Kendall and Gainsboro in Roanoke (Virginia), Hill District in Pittsburgh and Eastwick en Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), West End in Boston (Massachusetts), and the city of Newark (New Jersey).

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