How Racism Affects Children’s Health, and More

August 28, 2019


“The more you dehumanize someone, the less human they become. We struggle to just stay human and maintain whatever kind of dignity we can there.” — Monica Cosby, on women’s right to self-esteem while in prison.


Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement describing the many ways that racism is detrimental to children’s health. Structural racism and discrimination in areas like education, employment, and healthcare itself can cause chronic stress, which can, in turn, predispose infants and children to chronic disease, mental health problems, birth disparities in weight, and even infant mortality. Poor medical care as a result of racism can also lead to racial disparities in maternal mortality.

The authors describe racism as a “socially transmitted disease.” For example, in one study, African American boys who experienced racism were more likely to have behavioral problems. Co-author Dr. Maria Trent says that “stress can create hypervigilance in children who sense that they are living in a threatening world.”

Our Take

We know that microaggressions and other forms of everyday racism cause psychological and physical harm to people of color. Not only does the AAP’s statement re-confirm those findings, it also reveals exactly how a microaggression can link to outcomes as serious as chronic disease or birth disparities.

How It Affects You

The authors of the statement recommend the following steps for pediatricians to counteract health effects due to racism. Pediatricians can:

1)   examine internal prejudices and their influence on decision making and perceptions of patients, and
2)  make external changes to their office environment. Examples include “having multicultural dolls in the waiting room...and maintaining a roster of physicians that is reflective of the patient pool.”

Reminding ourselves and others that racism has both a psychological and physical impact can boost efforts to counter microaggressions, as well as institutional structures that harm people of color.


A number of female activists of color report that their content is disproportionately censored on Facebook. Mary Canty Merrill describes how her passionate letter that began with “Dear White People: The terminology we use to define a problem determines how we attempt to solve it…” was removed. Her profile was then suspended. As a psychologist who studies racial bias, Merrill was curious to see if Facebook’s censorship was racially motivated.

Black woman texting

She had some of her white friends post the same exact text, and then had others report it as inappropriate. In most cases, she found that the content and profiles were left untouched. In another instance, Ijeoma Oluo posted a screenshot on her profile of the harassment she regularly receives on the platform. Rather than suspending the profiles of the harassers themselves, Facebook suspended Oluo’s profile.

Other content that Facebook censors includes posts by Black people that include the N-word, and a page about Black families called “Black Love Matters.”


According to Mark Zuckerberg himself, Facebook hires thousands of manual moderators to review content posted by people all over the world. Aaron Sankin of Reveal explains that “because the moderators often live and work abroad, they don’t always have a strong grasp of the complexities of language, culture and racial politics of other countries.” It’s unfortunate but unsurprising that when the company’s moderation fails, it fails in favor of white people and against women of color who speak their minds.

How It Affects You

Jamia Wilson, executive director of the nonprofit Women, Action and the Media, refers to Facebook when she says, “If there were systematic changes in hiring and retention of leaders at all levels, that would likely change who’s being targeted disproportionately.”

At your institution or organization, whose words are heavily edited? Whose ideas are regularly tabled? In essence, who is being censored, and how would further diversifying your leadership change that?

LGBTQ teen


Jill Gutowitz, who came out as queer when she was 23, returned to her small-town New Jersey high school to find out how attitudes about LGBTQ people have changed since her experience a decade ago. She interviewed Chloë Purcell, a current student. Gutowitz recalls that when she was in school, there was a subtle but clear understanding that “if you’re gay, you will be punished.” Meanwhile, Purcell shares that she came out as bisexual during her first year of high school. Although she has a difficult time with her mother, she has a solid group of friends at school who are supportive.

Purcell adds that she doesn’t “feel as comfortable being so open about my sexuality around town” as compared to in school, and that she still doesn’t exactly “broadcast” her sexuality. After talking with Purcell, Gutowitz writes, “I know now that the damage was done slowly and insidiously. Homophobia didn’t strike in bolts of lightning, but rather loomed over me like an ominous cloud.”


Looking back at the overtly homophobic climate of just a few years ago can sometimes make it feel like outstanding progress has been made. It’s true that we have made some progress, and that in some communities, being queer in high school is radically different from what it was less than a decade ago.

But it’s important to keep Chloë Purcell’s experience in mind. Even though she is out and has support (which she likely would not have had in 2009), she still has to hide parts of herself and worry about how people will react to her queerness—in a state where LGBTQ students are protected by law.

How It Affects You

Take stock of and celebrate the progress your institution or organization has made with regard to LGBTQ+ inclusion in the last decade. Don’t forget to recognize the LGBTQ+ people who made that progress possible—and then make a plan for addressing the issues that remain. Continue to ensure that your community is one in which LGBTQ+ people feel they can speak out, champion change, and be fully themselves.


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