In the summer of 2019, the AAP (The American Academy of Pediatrics) issued its first statement on racism’s impact on child health and how to address it. In the summer of 2020, we have mass protests across our country standing up against the inhumane deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Amuad Arbery and many others. COVID had already taken a spotlight to the healthcare disparities that exist in our nation. Now, a magnifying glass is over America - where racism has existed for centuries and persisted among our infrastructure and personal beliefs - we as a country are finally opening our eyes to what many of us see in our daily lives.
Our entire goal for Ahimsa is to provide safe materials and healthy food for ALL children. We have discussed our partnership with the Patachou Foundation - they provide meals for children in Indianapolis facing food insecurity. My commitment to food insecurity is born out of my own experience as a resident physician. On a routine basis, we saw children with health problems like obesity and type 2 diabetes. We had clear cut solutions - healthy eating and regular exercise. Easy Peasy. Wait - that is the solution. But what if you don’t have the TOOLS that help you get to the solution? You have no access to a grocery store because you live in a food desert. You only have fast food chains and liquor stores in your neighborhood - and the first grocery store is many miles away. There are no gyms or YMCAs in your community and if there were, you can’t afford a membership. You can’t take those “after-dinner walks” in your neighborhood because the gun violence in Chicago that children face every day is real. You don’t have internet access to do any free online dance class on youtube. So - what is a child to do?
Things have not changed. Now, nearly a decade after completing residency, I see an amplification and acceleration of this in-built inequality as COVID has unearthed the problem many of us have seen and know too well. A single stay-at-home order reveals the overwhelming number of issues that some children face on a daily basis: lack of access to healthy food, lack of access to healthcare, lack of access to proper education, lack of access to resources if they experience abuse … lack of access to SO many things. If that doesn't show that our infrastructure itself has inherent racism in it, I don’t know what does. Oh wait. Police brutality disproportionately against black men and women, gerrymandering, discrimination within employment … The list is long.
According to the Center for American Progress, “structural racism in federal, state, and local policymaking has produced stark and persistent inequities in [our] economic well-being”.
In the 2019 AAP Policy Statement, the problem is stated as such:
“Racism is a “system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks (which is what we call ‘race’) that unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities, unfairly advantages other individuals and communities, and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources.”
Racism continues to undermine the health of our children. Dr. Sara Goza, the AAP President, yesterday said “Racism harms children’s health, starting from before they are born. A growing body of research supports this, and we cannot ignore the impact.”
We cannot ignore it. Our children’s future will be built on these moments. Their future depends on us - adults creating and implementing the path to real solutions. I recently participated in the White Coats for Black Matters - wearing a mask and socially distancing during the march. As physicians, we can no longer read about the studies regarding the health care disparities that we all see daily in our profession ... it’s time for all of us to DO something to change policies to end the disparity.
Ahimsa means “avoiding harm”. The harm being done to many in our nation is unfathomable. But I believe in the good in people. I believe that people WILL act to create change within themselves and advocate for change in policy. I believe in humanity.
Why do I believe that? Because we MUST - our children are watching us, learning from us and depending on us in this moment and the many moments after the protests and riots end. A baby’s brain can notice race-based differences as early as six months and can internalize racial bias by ages two to four, according to Dr. Jacqueline Dougé, who co-authored the AAP's statement on the impact of racism on child and adolescent health. You can visit healthychildren.org and pbs.com to find out more about how to talk to your children about racial bias. We have a chance, as parents, to engage in meaningful age-appropriate conversations with our children. We can start the fight against structural racism by starting first at home.You can visit blacklivesmatter.com to educate yourself on ways to act locally and nationally for real policy change. So go on ... talk, reflect, vote and advocate. Do all the things. Do it for our kids.
“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
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