I was moved by an article in the New York Times written by a black woman about shielding her 7 year old son from news about racially-biased incidents that have recently transpired. The article had me thinking about our children and the psychological impact that racial discrimination may have on their development. As parents we teach our children how to steer clear of danger, at the same time providing them with a sense of agency and confidence as they explore the world around them. In addition to being influenced by their parents’ view of the world, the social experience that children encounter plays a critical role in the formation of their perception of the world. When they witness or experience inequality, powerlessness and discrimination, not only does their perception about the world as a safe place change, it also has a tremendous impact on their psychological and physical well-being. The pervasive exposure to racial discrimination, either through lived experience or through witnessing it, is a chronic stressor that adversely impacts all aspects of children’s health, including their self-worth, self-esteem, and psychological development. Moreover, the psychosocial stress children face as a result of racial discrimination could inhibit future academic and economic success. It boggles my mind that we do not give the needed attention to these adverse psychological effects that racism has on our children.
So here we are, living in a world where a watch not just tells you the time, but brings a world of information right to your wrists with a simple glance. If we have the intellectual capabilities to produce such technological marvels, shouldn’t we be capable of recognizing the utter ridiculousness of according privilege based on the color of a person’s skin?! Well I guess we could blame this idiocy on the contention that humans only use 10% of their brain. So maybe the capacity to understand that the color of our skin is nothing more than the level of melanin pigment in the skin cells and the level of hemoglobin present in the veins of the dermis is deeply logged in one of those untapped areas of the brain. Until we as a cognitively advanced species can start using the brain to its fullest potential, let us figure out how to minimize the psychological damage our children experience as a result of this madness.
Shielding our children from racism or from the barrage of news on social media about incidents that bring into question the basic morality of this country is not the solution. Rather, we as a society need to provide an environment where children feel safe to talk about their reactions to incidents like Michael Brown or Eric Garner, to nurture a strong sense of ethnic identity in the face of racial calamity, to offer school programs that foster psychological resilience to racial discrimination and more crucially, school environments that promote diversity. And as parents, let us begin by having open dialogues with our children about racism, let us recognize and break the silence that fosters misunderstanding and hostility towards people that look different from us, let us help them ask the hard questions and most importantly, let us try our best to answer them.