Last summer, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement on racism’s impact on child health.
“Although progress has been made toward racial equality and equity, the evidence to support the continued negative impact of racism on health and well-being through implicit and explicit biases, institutional structures, and interpersonal relationships is clear,” the statement read. “Failure to address racism will continue to undermine health equity for all children, adolescents, emerging adults, and their families.”
While not completely surprising, the AAP’s decision to raise their voices in connection to this matter is telling. The fact that racism, which is ingrained in the very foundation of our country, has now been found to have the ability to chisel away at the health of our children — in addition to the many other things it takes from them — is enough to make the parent of any Black child feel helpless. However, according to pediatrician Dr. Jacqueline Douge, there are ways that parents can mitigate the impact.
MN: What are some of the potential effects of racism on childhood mental health?
Dr. Douge: The are physical, mental, and developmental effects of racism on children. The health effects can be in the form of misdiagnoses, chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, depression, and even though it’s not typically brought up — education. Disproportionate expulsions, suspensions of Black children, and even if we look at our incarceration rates. The over-policing. I think those all ultimately have health impacts on children.
MN: I’m so glad that you mentioned education. As a person who has primarily taught in Black communities, I’ve seen some troubling things. Is there anything parents can do to mitigate the impact?
Dr. Douge: That’s a great question. Unfortunately, we can’t protect our kids from everything. So, I say actually, the best way to do it is to forearm them. Prepare them for a system that may be or will be biased towards them. I think it’s about preparation, preparing our children. Affirm them. Let them know that they’re beautiful and smart. Have real, age-appropriate conversations about what happens in society. Also, inherently reinforcing the fact that you’re there to help them, answer questions, and navigate difficult situations. It’s not just gonna be racism that we wanna protect our kids from. Model for them. Be prepared to ask some questions so that they are better equipped and so that they have the tools they need and [you’re] preparing them for when they may witness potential racism. Also, teaching them to advocate for themselves.
MN: What are some of the ways that parents can partner with pediatricians to be proactive about racism and its impact on child health?
Dr. Douge: Whether it’s a fever or an issue in school, I would say to ask your child’s pediatrician for their advice. The American Academy of Pediatrics has really done a great job in providing information to families about the impact of racism on child health and the role that pediatricians play in helping to mitigate that impact. Reach out to your pediatrician and ask questions. If they can’t answer your question or they’re not comfortable, hopefully, they can provide you with resources to answer those questions.
MN: Tell us about your book, which expands upon this topic.
Dr. Douge: I wrote a book called Learning To Love All Of Me, which centers this discussion about, you know, identity and racism and social justice. The main character is struggling with her racial identity. It’s a middle-grade novel and she’s experiencing racism through the eyes of her family as well as interactions with her friends at school. Books are great conversation starters because they allow you to step back and ask questions from the character’s perspective.