Racism hurts children, in real and fundamental ways. It hurts not just their health, but their chances for a good, successful life.

For instance, my cousin told me her six-year old daughter Britney wanted to have a bath when she came home from school. Once in the tub, Britney began vigorously scrubbing her skin and wouldn’t stop.

Britney said the kids were teasing her for having brown skin and she was trying to wash off the brown so she could be white.

Britney experienced racism, which was people treating her badly because they believe they’re better than her. It’s usually white people who think they are superior to people who are darker than them. Eschia, take it easy eh.

And kids are not born thinking that white people are better than darker skinned people.

Dr. Maria Trent, from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine says, “We call (racism) a socially transmitted disease: It’s taught, it’s passed down, but the impacts on children and families are significant from a health perspective.”

Effects on health and well-being

Ongoing racism and discrimination lead to chronic stress for children, which can lead to hormonal changes and chronic disease like hypertension and heart disease.

The children are also more likely to have behavior problems like aggression, as stress can create hypervigilance from sensing they are living in a threatening world. Not cool.

One expert says it’s very harmful when children internalize racism. “They see so much negativity about people like them that they develop negativity about themselves.”

Research shows minority children in school are more likely to receive harsh punishment for minor infractions, less likely to receive special education, and teachers may underestimate their abilities.

And when a teacher doesn’t believe in them, they are less likely to believe in themselves and to be successful. This is important because better-educated adults live longer and have lower rates of chronic disease. Whoa.

In the justice system, minority youth are more likely to be incarcerated, with all the health and emotional consequences this brings, both during incarceration and after.

Being incarcerated forever changes a person and how others see them. To boot, people experiencing racism are also more likely to experience poorer treatment and outcomes through mental health services.

And it’s not only what happens to the child. A pregnant mother’s stress can affect children, showing up in higher infant mortality and lower birth weights.

Additionally, parents who have been treated unfairly are more likely to have children with behavioral issues such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Help stop racism and discrimination

It will definitely not be easy to fix racism and discrimination. Here are some things we can all do to pitch in. Yay.

We can all take a good look at ourselves, our beliefs and our biases, and really try to change them. This includes thinking about and changing how we talk about each other.

We’ve all seen racism and many of us have not done anything. We need to say something when we see or hear racism or discrimination. Now you’re talking.

We are our children’s first teachers, so we must talk to our children about racism while teaching them and demonstrating healthy ways to think about other people and about themselves.

We need to work to stop institutional racism. For instance, our children spend a lot of time at school. Everyone should work to make sure that all children have access to a good and supportive education.

People living in poverty are usually less healthy, incarcerated more, and discriminated against because they are poor. We must ensure that programs are in place to help poor people and to lift them out of poverty.

Our laws and legal aid programs must truly protect all people, not just some people. We all need to keep a watchful eye to ensure this happens.

Here are some self-care tips to safeguard your mental health.

First and foremost, get counselling. It’s very important to also create safe spaces where you can go and you know you will be safe from racism. Start a racism support group, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, or other community support.

Develop a healing plan which includes having ‘alone time’ and going out on the land. It’s also very important to express your emotions and to have a physical release, which can be walking, chopping wood, or going to the gym.

This is about our future and our children’s future; let’s all work to ensure racism plays a lesser part in that future.  

Roy Erasmus

Roy Erasmus Sr. Is a certified wellness counsellor who survived heart disease and a former member of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories.

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