Children and young people who are targets of racial discrimination are at higher risk of increased anxiety and depression, behavior difficulties, suicide and self-harm. Sleep difficulties, systemic inflammation, and risk factors for cardiovascular disease have also been linked with racial discrimination experiences among children. Young people who experience high levels of racial discrimination have also been found to have increased cellular aging, inflammation, and physiological wear and tear. Racial discrimination quite literally can get under the skin and make our children and young people sick.
This can also occur even when children themselves aren’t the direct targets, referred to as vicarious racism. Racism experienced by a carer, family member or peer, that may or may not be witnessed by the child, has also been shown to place children and young people at risk. Studies show increased risk of common childhood illnesses, social emotional difficulties, and risk of overweight and obesity among children with carers and families who experience racism. Witnessing or hearing about racism in the media and online, including stereotyped, negative portrayals, is one harmful form of vicarious racism that also places children at risk.
As we look to the future and try to make sense of the rapidly changing world we inhabit, we must remember our children and young people. All children and young people, regardless of their cultural background, the colour of their skin, where they were born, the language they speak, how much money they have, deserve to be safe and given the best chance in life possible. As discomforting and disquieting as it may be, this means taking up the challenge to acknowledge racism, it its multiple, insidious, and pernicious forms, and addressing it as an important stressor in children’s lives.