Racism Takes a Toll on Kids’ Mental Health

“We know that children who experience poor health and well-being are less likely to engage in education, employment and other activities that support them to lead healthy and productive lives, and to participate meaningfully in the community. – Naomi Priest

65326Most adults say they can probably recount an instance of blatant or subversive racism. Equipped with life experiences and coping mechanisms, most adults are able to deal with racism in healthy ways that are not destructive.

A new study is suggesting that the youngest victims of racism may have a difficult time understanding and processing someone disliking or even hating them because of the color of their skin.

Racism, also sometimes called racialism, is generally defined as actions, practices, or beliefs that consider the human species to be divided into races with shared traits, abilities, or qualities, such as personality, intellect, morality, or other cultural behavioral characteristics, and especially the belief that races can be ranked as inherently superior or inferior to others, or that members of different races should be treated differently.

The exact definition of racism is controversial both because there is little scholarly agreement about the meaning of the concept “race”, and because there is also little agreement about what does and doesn’t constitute discrimination. Critics argue that the term is applied differentially, with a focus on such prejudices by whites, and defining mere observations of racial differences as racism.

On the flip side, some sociologists have defined racism as a system of group privilege. In Portraits of White Racism, David Wellman has defined racism as “culturally sanctioned beliefs, which, regardless of intentions involved, defend the advantages whites have because of the subordinated position of racial minorities”. Challenging the notion that racism consists simply of prejudice in the minds of individuals, this book argues instead that racism is a set of culturally acceptable beliefs that defend the advantages whites have obtained in American society.

In the same vein, sociologists Noël A. Cazenave and Darlene Alvarez Maddern wrote an article called “Defending the White Race: White Male Faculty Opposition to a White Racism Course” in the journal Race and Society. In it, they  define racism as “…a highly organized system of ‘race’-based group privilege that operates at every level of society and is held together by a sophisticated ideology of color/’race’ supremacy.

Racist systems include, but cannot be reduced to, racial bigotry. Sociologist and former American Sociological Association president Joe Feagin argues that the United States can be characterized as a “total racist society.”

Recent research shows that racism takes a toll on kids’ mental health.  Most of the racism experienced by children and teens involved discrimination by other people, rather than institutional or systemic racism, according to the findings.

The review also revealed an increased risk of poorer birth outcomes among children whose mothers experienced racism during pregnancy.

Most of the studies included in the review were conducted in the United States with participants aged 12 to 18. Of the racial/ethnic groups included in the studies, the three most common were blacks, Hispanics and Asians.

“We know that children who experience poor health and well-being are less likely to engage in education, employment and other activities that support them to lead healthy and productive lives, and to participate meaningfully in the community,” lead researcher Naomi Priest, of the University of Melbourne in Australia, said.

Traditional” American Culture: Benign and Wholesome or Inherently Racist? says:

Police harassment and brutality directed at black men, women, and children are as old as American society, dating back to the days of slavery and Jim Crow segregation. Such police actions across the nation today reveal important aspects of . . . the commonplace discriminatory practices of individual whites . . . [and] white dominated institutions that allow or encourage such practices.

Racism in the form of discrimination infests society today. A case in point is that blacks have traditionally suffered from higher rates of unemployment than whites. In June 2009, black unemployment was 15.3 % compared to an 8.8% unemployment rate for whites. Do blacks simply not take the initiative that whites do to find work? Studies indicate that, in actuality, discrimination likely contributes to the black-white unemployment gap.

In 2003, researchers at the University of Chicago and MIT released a study involving 5,000 fake resumes that found that 10% of those featuring “Caucasian-sounding” names were called back compared to just 6.7% of those featuring “black-sounding” names. Moreover, resumes featuring names such as Tamika and Aisha were called back just 5% and 2% of the time. The skill-level of the faux black candidates made no impact on callback rates.

Moving toward solutions
In a Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom,    a radical analysis of contemporary classrooms, MacArthur Award–winning author Lisa Delpit develops ideas about ways teachers can be better “cultural transmitters” in the classroom, where prejudice, stereotypes, and cultural assumptions breed ineffective education. Delpit suggests that many academic problems attributed to children of color are actually the result of miscommunication, as primarily white teachers and “other people’s children” struggle with the imbalance of power and the dynamics plaguing our system.

Other People’s Children is a must-read for teachers, administrators, and parents striving to improve the quality of America’s education system. The book is is a paradigm-shifting, highly acclaimed exploration of the cultural slippage between white teachers and students of color.

“This reminds us that parents need to be sure that their children are getting valuable and self-affirming messages outside of the school system, which sometimes hurts them more than helps them,” said Dr. Boyce Watkins, author of The 8 Principles of Black Male Empowerment. “Our children sometimes find themselves so spiritually degraded that they in turn become intellectually crippled for life. We cannot accept this outcome.”

Dr. Watkins recommends that all parents teach their children outside of school and also give them lessons that strengthen their self-esteem. He says that parents should take their children online and have them write short reports on Black historical figures and events, as well as read biographies of successful African Americans.

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