Playing with Anger

The Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology at Regent hosts a monthly colloquia series. This month we welcomed Howard Stevenson, Ph.D., who spoke on racial negotiation in schools. He is associate professor and chair of Applied Psychology and Human Development at the University of Pennsylvania. The title of his talk was “Playing with Anger: Reaching Out and Teaching Angry and Aggressive Youth.”

Dr. Stevenson opened by recognizing the importance of talking about differences in race and culture. Among the many things he does, he teaches young African American males how to respond to being questioned by police – as black youth are more likely to be stopped (in their car or walking) in neighborhoods, regardless of whether they are the majority or minority in that neighborhood. He wants that exchange to end well. But the context here is a “Catch 33” by which he means damned if you do, damned if you don’t – just damned. It’s more than just a no-win situation, it is a no-win situation across the lifespan; it doesn’t get better. Racial bias can occur at age 5, 15, and 55. That is the context for teaching kids not to curse out police.

As Dr. Stevenson observed, we have a tremendous capacity to avoid racial discussion. We have skills to avoid it; we need skills to enhance it. We need racial literacy and negotiation skills. He’s about counter-socialization to manage Catch 33: for protection (manage stress), affirmation (develop talent), reappraisal (reframing “stress” as “challenge”), competence (to counteract microaggressions), and faith (the transcendent/divine).

In what ways is Dr. Stevenson’s work integrative? I’m sure that there are countless ways, and you’d likely have to sit down with him for awhile to get more of a full picture. I will say this: Dr. Stevenson is a person of faith, and from what he says he is drawn in part by his faith to this area of study. He has a heart for young people and a heart for racial literacy. It reminded me again that community psychology is particularly important for impacting a large number of people for the good; in ways that are different than individual counseling, community psychology can identify and find positive ways to respond to what might best be understood as systemic evil.

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