Oct 16, 2020 Editorial
Kaieteur News – What kind of children are we rearing here? What burdens do we – family, community, and society – heap upon them? Do we know what we are doing to our children, and even if and when we do, do we care, given the jarring consequences on wider society in time to come?
In an article in the New York Times dated August 12, 2019, titled, “The impact of racism on children’s health,” the American Academy of Paediatrics came out with a policy statement, which asserted that the negative impacts start from as early as the womb. To repeat for our readers, who care: the fallout starts from the womb. Given the passions (and resulting anxieties and traumas) that surge uninterrupted in this society, what are we doing to each new generation of our children in Guyana? From only empirical observations and developments, it is clear that we are foisting huge handicaps on our offspring and on this society, which struggles futilely to progress beyond what has crippled.
“Racism is a significant social determinant of health clearly prevalent in our society now,” said Dr. Maria Trent, a professor of paediatrics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who was one of the co-authors of the statement. As places of prestige go, there is none better than Johns Hopkins. And as political presences go in Guyana, there are few higher than that of prime minister, who during the elections, said publicly that our racial problem must be faced head-on. Clearly, racism is a huge problem, and in Guyana there is none bigger, and which we are being informed starts from the earliest of ages, reaches everywhere. Yet we do nothing.
Racism has an impact on children and families who are targeted, the doctor noted, and also on those witnessing it. “We call it a socially transmitted disease: It’s taught, it’s passed down, but the impacts on children and families are significant from a health perspective,” said Dr. Trent.
This translates to stress and the emotional and psychological impairments that come quickly and enduringly. It is not a good way for the young to begin their life’s journey anywhere, it certainly has not been conducive to the positive in our social arena, which has been plagued and weighed down with the reciprocal memories, widespread indoctrinations that start from the cradle and continue all the way to the grave. It should not come as any surprise that we are so warped in our outlooks and bent in our ways, not when the ground has been laid and the poisons sowed so fluidly and so early in the long and dark Guyanese context.
The experiences that shape parents also resonate in their children’s lives, Dr. Trent said; parents and caregivers who reported they had been treated unfairly were more likely to have children with behavioural issues such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, among other ills and woes that can linger for a lifetime.
Dr. AdiahaI A. Spinks-Franklin, a developmental-behavioural paediatrician and associate professor of paediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine said that racial awareness in children follows a set of milestones. At age 3, children recognize human variations, including skin colour, but without assigning value to them. “A 4-year-old recognizes basic racial stereotypes,” she said. “Parents need to be aware of what their children are watching and provide diverse books and stories with strong positive models.” In Guyana, those “strong positive models” must come from the words, postures, attitudes, and emotions of parents. The tolerated, included, and appreciated, must be laid in stone in the home, and early. If not, then we might as well be dead here, for the quality of life that is substituted and struggled with vainly.
By age seven, the doctor said, children develop racial permanency, “where you recognize the body you’re born in is the body you have, your skin colour isn’t going to change drastically.” Around nine, they become more aware of what place their own cultural group holds in society. It is that tendency to identification that leads down a bad road. Everyone else is of the other, with little opportunity for turning back.
Unless we recognize these unerring truths and are resolved to do something to improve our lot, then we are doomed to keep repeating the racial devastations of the past.
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