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Racism harms children’s health

Dr. Kathy Anderson, President, North Dakota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics

As we have all witnessed images of violence and the intensity of on-going protests and social unrest, we are reminded of how all of us are impacted by systemic racism and those of us consciously or unconsciously perpetrating or privileged by it suffer from living in our unequal society. The American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on the Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health discusses how “racism is a social determinant of health that has a profound impact on the health status of children, adolescents, emerging adults, and their families” and that 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.”

We know that racial discrimination is associated with poor health outcomes affecting an individual’s experience with the educational system, juvenile justice system, healthcare system, and employment and affects infant mortality and life expectancy.

We all have a role to play in correcting this injustice.

As a pediatrician, health and wellness expert, and as member of our greater healthcare community, what we know is that racism causes disease in our communities. Studies have shown that decisions we make as doctors, teachers, employers, and police are often shaded by biases that we often don’t know we have. And what we have learned about bias is that once we learn what our biases are, we are able to better control for them and not allow them to affect our decisions as much. We also know that children’s exposure to racism, witnessed or experienced, affects their physical and mental health across their lifespan.

As a black woman, a mother, and a pediatrician, I have no tolerance for anything that would place my or any other child at an unfair disadvantage and neither should you. It is our responsibility, as the protectors of our children, to create safe and just communities where all children feel safe, cared for, and valued. It is our job to join hands with each other and have uncomfortable conversations.

If we strive for equity as pediatricians, parents, and community members, we can educate ourselves about race, reflect and consider our own conscious and unconscious biases, talk to our children, get involved in our communities, and choose to teach our children how to fill their hearts with love and openness, not hate and judgment.

I imagine a future for my children (the ones that I have at home, the ones that I care for in my practice, and the ones that live in my community) rich with opportunities where their worth is valued equally to that of their peers from other backgrounds.

I hope that you all join me in making this a reality.

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