By Ameera Steward
Wayne Richardson teaches his four children that everyone is the same. He tells them, “Know that you can’t look at any race, religion, creed and categorize it because, across the board, we all have our differences one way or another.”
As the mother of a 5-year-old boy, Tracey Hill tells her son the need to work hard and be the best he can be “even though someone may not like you or may talk about you. … You can’t allow that to stop you from doing what you know what’s right to do.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently issued a first-time-ever policy statement that encourages pediatricians to educate themselves about racial bias because of the devastating long-term impact racism has on children.
During a series of recent interviews outside Martha Gaskins Elementary School in East Birmingham, many local parents agreed with the AAP and said the new policy will help pediatricians better serve their patients and communities. But they also stressed the role parents must play.
Words of Wisdom
“It’s vital that [children are] aware of their surroundings and know how to react … when they’re confronted with racism,” said Richardson, a parent of two boys, ages 12 and 4, and two girls, ages 9 and 6.
Marjorie Collins, who has seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, said it’s important to teach children about racism so they won’t grow up with it inside of them and “they learn at an early age that people should be treated the same, equally.”
“Most of all, [I tell them] to get an education so they can get good jobs and try to better themselves,” she added. “That’s the most important thing, I feel.”
Michele Bossie, a parent of two girls, ages 26 and 20, and two boys, 24 and 5, said teaching children about race at a young age helps them identify who they are and where they fall on the racism scale.
“[It] helps them be able to [recognize] if they’re being treated a certain way because of their color,” she said, adding that it mainly helps them “identify who they are, their families, their culture, and different cultures. [It teaches them] how we are different people, but we should be … one love.”
She added that she tries to teach her children the significance of being well-educated, in addition to teaching them about themselves and showing them how to be leaders as opposed to followers.
“A lot of times, with kids … in our culture, African American culture, we have a lot to worry about [with] our kids being followers and following the wrong crowd,” Bossie said. “So, I teach [my 5-year-old son] that it’s very important to be a leader now. It’s OK to be yourself. [Even] if no one else wants to hang out with you, it’s OK to be who you are. Don’t feel like you have to do things to fit in, to be a part of a crew. It’s OK to be an individual leader.”
Alice Love-Blair, a parent of two girls, ages 13 and 11, said it is critical to teach children about racism, so it won’t surprise them when or if they encounter it.
“Make sure they’re aware and know the proper etiquette about how to react toward it,” she said. “[If you don’t] teach your children something and somebody comes at them the wrong way, it can lead to bad results. They can end up [in] physical altercations and get hurt or hurt another child because of that.”
Overall, Love-Blair makes it a duty to tell her children, “Know who you are and know your worth.”
Even Before Birth
The AAP policy statement—the first time the group has explicitly focused on racism—draws from hundreds of studies to alert doctors about the impact of racism on children. Maria Trent, MD, lead author of the policy statement, said, “Racism affects children before they’re even born … and continues to affect them across their lifespan. It affects them in the places they live, the institutions they interact with, including schools and law enforcement.”
Joanna Henderson, a parent of two girls, ages 15 and 5, agreed, adding that things such as income, access to healthy food, and environment affect everything.
“Other communities might have better health clinics, so they get better medicine,” she said. “They also can afford more.”
Hill noted that healthy food can be a big issue, considering that isn’t an option in many minority or urban areas, whereas it is readily available in other communities.
“A lot of black families or families, in general, especially different ethnic groups, have to go where they … can to get the most for the cheapest price,” she said. “That could also affect a child’s health and a child’s well-being.”
Some children are raised in stressed environments, Bossie said.
“If the parents are stressed out because they’re not making ends meet, it affects the child in the long run. It sometimes has an emotional effect on kids that we, as parents, don’t understand, or it may be hard for us to pay that much attention because we have to focus on the necessities when it comes to financial issues and taking care of them,” she said.
Due to the stress, parents can struggle with being fully attentive or parenting effectively, Bossie explained.
“You’re less patient, you’re [quicker] to fly off the handle, … you have a different way of handling things when you’re stressed. It doesn’t make you a bad parent, it just makes you a parent that has limited resources, [which can] affect your ability to be the best parent you possibly can because you have to deal with [so many different] things,” she said. “It definitely has an impact on the quality time, the training we could possibly give them. … It’s just like a domino effect.”
This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.