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Dr. Nia Heard-Garris addresses how racism affects children’s health outcomes

In a recent video, Dr. Nia Heard-Garris shares her research on the implications of macro- and micro-level stressors and how they affect children’s health. She specifically examines structural racism as a pervasive stressor and its effects, including how racism is portrayed in the media and can have an effect on children. She says that “In the media, when crimes happen and they show a picture of the suspect, a lot of times for people of color would be a typical mugshot where they look scary or a brut-looking picture versus for white assailants sometimes it will be their graduation photos and their high school photos. […] So that is a way that the media is not intended to be racist or perpetuate racism but it definitely does for kids.” This form of second-hand racism can leave impressions on children who are still developing socioemotionally. To watch her video on child development and racism, click here.

This video was created in response to her previous work on second-hand racism, also known as vicarious racism. Published in the the article “Transmitting Trauma: A systematic review of vicarious racism and child health“, she found evidence suggesting that children mainly experience vicarious racism through the eyes of their parents. However, she found that this topic is rarely studied from the point of view of children and calls for more research involving the internet and social media platforms to examine how this racialized stressor impacts youth.

For Dr. Heard-Garris, her professional work found context in her personal life when, one day, her four-year-old son said “Mommy, sometimes I’m white […] [A friend] told me that he didn’t want to play with black kids. He won’t play with me unless I am white.” In an article titled “From the Mouths of Babes: Preschool Racism“, she notes that at four, children typically begin to identify people by their race and skin color, noting that “Young children hold strong ideas about race that could become prejudice or racism if left unchecked.” She believes that pediatricians must reflect about race and privilege when treating patients, as it effects people of all ages.

A national study has recently been published stating that African-American children have double the surgical mortality rate compared to white children. In “Surgical Mortality and Race as a Risk Factor: A Compass, Not a Destination“, Dr. Heard-Garris writes on how race may act as a proxy for other factors including social class, culture, and economic status. One explanation for these findings may be that African-American families are being referred to high-mortality hospitals more often than white families are or may live in areas where there is less access to quality health care. She believes that changes in policy and practices are the best ways to reduce the mortality gap, rather than using race to predict risk.

Because of her work on children’s health, she has recently been named a National Minority Quality Forum’s 40 under 40 Leaders in Minority Health award winner. For questions, contact Dr. Heard-Garris on Twitter at @DrHeardGarris.