Gulf Shores The American Association of Pediatrics has released a study that has been several years in the making on the impact of racism on children, and it’s devastating. It starts early, even in the womb and has serious health impacts right up to a too early grave.
The litany of impacts is jolting according to the doctors and the list of adverse medical problems is extensive. Here’s a short list:
- Low birth weights
- High maternal mortality
- Socially transmitted from generation to generation
- Less access to prenatal care
- Inferior medical facilities
- High rates of heart disease
- Excessive rates of hypertension
- Chronic stress leading to chronic diseases
- Unacknowledged biases from medical personnel
- Behavior problems and attention deficit disorder
And, it goes on and on.
The doctors have some recommendations. Wisely, there first order of business is “heal thyself.” They advise children’s doctors and hospitals to make sure that everything a child sees and experiences in the healthcare environment is multi-cultural from magazines to dolls to hopefully staffing. They want pediatrician’s offices to be a “safe space” for families and children experience racism and are encouraging their members to go past the length of the stethoscope and ask about racism, bullying, and other social impacts that may be harming the health of children.
The New York Times’ report quotes several doctors alarmingly:
Dr. Spinks-Franklin, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, said that racial awareness in children follows a set of milestones. By the time children are 3, she said, they begin to recognize normal human variations, including skin color, but without assigning value to them. “A 4-year-old recognizes basic racial stereotypes,” she said. Parents need to be aware of what their children are watching, and provide diverse books and stories with strong positive models.
By age 7, she said, children develop racial permanency, “where you recognize the body you’re born in is the body you have, your skin color isn’t going to change drastically.” Around 9, as part of their identity development, they become more aware of what place their own cultural group holds in society. “When I was 9, I knew exactly what racism looked like and how it felt and how it manifested itself,” said Dr. Spinks-Franklin, who is African-American.
And then in adolescence, as children explore racial and cultural identity, they tend to show strong preferences for their own groups, sorting themselves out by table in the cafeteria. The goal of racial identity development, Dr. Spinks-Franklin said, is by young adulthood to have a healthy sense of who you are, recognizing your own cultural group without demonizing others. But not everyone gets there.
The doctors’ message seems clear. Unless racism is attacked early and beaten back quickly with young children, it becomes a lifetime and fatal affliction. This seems a call-to-action for Head Start, preschool, and the early years of elementary schools to train teachers, support staff, and, yes, even parents of children of all races, so that they seeds are snuffed out early and not allowed to grow into diseases that kill people and our whole society later.