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Racial Discrimination and Parenting: Implications for Intervening With African American Children and Families

Sep 12, 2021

Justin K. Scott, Cassandra Simons, Tanya Tavassolie, Laura Jimenez Parra, and Brenda Jones Harden, University of Maryland

Abstract Racial discrimination has major implications for African American families and their young children. Considered to be an adverse childhood experience, persistent racial discrimination can lead to toxic stress, physiological changes in the body, and increased morbidity. In this article, the authors review how racial discrimination impacts the physical health and mental well-being of African American parents and their children from birth to preschool. They discuss implications for intervening with African American families to reduce the negative impact of racial discrimination.

But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body. —Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Discrimination is the unfair treatment of a person or group of people because of personal characteristics, such as race (Williams et al., 2019). Racism in the United States has gained public interest due to the sociopolitical climate and events of 2020 such as the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. However, slavery, systemic racism, and discrimination in the United States have been contributing to disparities in developmental outcomes of African American children for centuries. Racial discrimination is considered a major social determinant of health (Trent et al., 2019), meaning that the many ways in which racism and discrimination are manifested in people’s daily lives, interactions with others, and communities can negatively impact the health of their bodies and minds, and can even be passed on to their young children.

In the US, African American children are placed at higher risk for infant mortality (Mathews & Driscoll, 2017), physical and mental health challenges (Auerbach et al., 2000; Poissant & Alexander, 2000), lower academic achievement (Barbarin & Soler, 1993; Neal, 2006), delinquent behavior (Jones Harden, 2008; Williams et al., 2007), and preschool and elementary school expulsion (Gilliam, 2005). These racial disparities signal an urgent need for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to gain a better understanding of how to prevent the negative developmental impact of racism and discrimination. This article discusses how racial discrimination can impact the health and well-being of African American children and families, highlights research that documents evidence of discrimination linked to health disparities, and discusses implications for future research, policy, and practice.

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