Children’s Health at Stake Because of Racism and Discrimination

by Camille Cournoyer on November 10, 2016 - 8:59pm

Summary: Patcher, Bernstein, Szalacha and Coll’s study investigated the way children perceive racism and in which situation they observe it, as well as the effects of discrimination and racism on them. The main hypothesis was that there is a positive correlation between children’s awareness of racism in their environment and their health condition, particularly if they are part of a group that constitutes a visible minority. The participants were children between 8 and 18 years old. They were conveniently chosen from four Boys and Girls Club Centers, four public support organizations, in Hartford, Connecticut. The 277 selected children had a similar background. They were mainly poor and had lived in urban areas. Based on a study analysing the same issue, the researchers created a questionnaire of 23 statements. Each statement described a particular situation in which the children might have felt discriminated against. In such cases, they had to specify how frequently, and, in their opinion, for what reason they were treated differently. The independent variable was exposition to racism and general discrimination while the dependent variable was children’s psychological health. Patcher, Bernstein, Szalacha and Coll found that 88.4% of the respondents had already been victims of discrimination at least once. Furthermore, from the 23 proposed situations, the respondents had, on average, experienced six of them. Verbal attacks were the most identifiable types of racial discrimination. According to the findings, racial discrimination occurred most of the time at school, while shopping, and in restaurants. Indeed, the subjects would be treated differently and poorly. Self-identified African Americans and Latinos’ results were similar, except that African Americans felt like people were afraid of them and that they were less valued by their teachers. The main difference between these two groups was that Latinos believed their accent and language were the reason why they were treated differently, while African Americans attributed this problematic to their “race”. Females felt like their family members had been treated unfairly more often than males. Older children, aged 14 to 18, tended to feel discriminated against by figures of authority (police officers, store clerks, security guards). The researchers concluded that racism and discrimination are very present if the life of kids who are part of a visible minority group and that this situation can affect their health and development. Even members of the same minority group can insult each other using stereotypes. Besides, discrimination can be implicit. Situations of racial discrimination in which the bad intentions of the perpetrator are unclear, compared to explicit discrimination, could have a more important impact on children’s health. Kids also had hard time determining whether they were punished because of their “difference” or because they really did something bad. Patcher, Bernstein, Szalacha and Coll discovered that discrimination was not exclusively due to the kids’ race and ethnicity: age, gender and elements of culture associated with youth were also mentioned. Racism causes inequalities between individuals, which could explain inequalities in health care and the poorer health state of minority group’s members.

Response: As mentioned by the authors, studies analyzing the reality of children who are part of a minority group are not very common. Therefore, I believe that this study is particularly relevant. I admire its intentions to raise awareness, to demonstrate that racial discrimination is still present in our society and its consequences. However, I thought the researchers did not put enough focus on children’s state of health. Indeed, they deeply analyzed the independent variable (exposition to racism and general discrimination), but provided very few information on their findings about their dependent variable, if any. Therefore, I believe they did not fully responded to the question they desired to answer. Furthermore, as the children had a similar background due to convenience sampling, assumptions cannot be made for the population of children from visible-minority groups. Having a control group of white children in order to compare the results could have been interesting. Also, as “race” was listed as a potential reason for being discriminated against, I feel like the study might reinforce the idea that humans can be divided into distinct groups. Therefore, it might raise awareness among the study’s readers, but I wonder how beneficial it is for the respondents. However, I thought their definition of racism was extremely complete as it included explicit and implicit racism as well as the concept of power. 

Word count: 720

APA Reference:

Pachter, L. M., Bernstein, B. A., Szalacha, L. A., & Coll, C. G. (2010). Perceived racism and discrimination in children and youths: An exploratory study. Health & Social Work, 35(1), 61-9. Retrieved from


In my sociology class we recently watched a documentary titled, Unnatural Causes: In Sickness and in Wealth, which talked about the ways health is impacted by social status, class, income, and race. It taught me a lot about how health can be negatively impacted by stress, so the tile of this post made me wonder if the post would connect with and mirror the ideas of the documentary. Turns out that pieces of it did parallel the documentaries main ideas. Overall minorities have a tendency to feel less valued and have increased stress levels. While this post did a good job summarizing the articles experiment, it lack the analyzing of the studies results. I would have really liked to know more about how the health of the participants was impacted specifically -- yet the post does point out the published study lacked specific examples of the dependent variable, so it did try to explain the flaw.
Despite this I still found the post very informative and enjoyable to read. One of the most compelling sections of the post was when it discussed how kids of minority groups expressed having a hard time determining whether they were punished because of their “difference” or because they really did something bad. This is something I never have experienced, or thought about having to deal with. Growing up in the position of a middle class white individual I never thought of weather the reactions to my actions were warranted or impacted based on my race. This is a luxury I take for granted, as reading this post showed me that it is not the case for everyone. Moreover, I realized how troubling or disconcerting this could be for a young child, as I understand that in many situations children ages 8-18 are vying for approval.

Hi Julia,

Thank you for taking the time to respond. I was also very curious to learn more about the impact of racism on children's health. Unforunately, the researchers did not measure the participants' health, the dependent variable, in any way, which I thought was disappointing. However, some believe this research was made as a starting point for other studies to explore that subject. Let's hope more research will be done soon!

The title caught my eye at ‘children's health” because I want to pursue a job in the health field, particularly with kids, so anything concerning this topic is of great interest to me. I just never put health and racism together in the same category before until reading this post. I would like to say that I'm surprised about these statistics on children dealing with discriminatory verbal attacks, but I’m not. It’s the sad truth of our society, but even children face the harsh reality of racism. The part that really stuck out to me was when you mentioned “kids also had hard time determining whether they were punished because of their “difference” or because they really did something bad.” Kids should not have to feel this way. Soon they're going to start to believe that what they are or what minority they are is wrong since they are being “punished”. Children or anyone for that fact should never be ashamed of who they are or where they come from. Therefore, I like how you added more than one race/nationality for examples and compared them to one another to see if their were any similarities or differences among African American and Latino health/development. Ever since the election, I know a couple of people of different races that are now scared to live in this country. That uncertainty of what's going to happen to them without a doubt is not good for their mental health and overall state of well being. Furthermore, with the topic of this year's election, I recently saw a video online that showed a latino women (about 19) with a shirt that said “minority lives matter” at a trump rally. The girl was screamed at, given dirty looks, had ignorant racist comments yelled at her and told to “go back home or start acting like an American.” She told them that she was born in Texas, but they didn't believe her. This was only one instance, but this was a recurring theme at most if the Trump debates/ rallies and it's a common theme in reality today. Furthermore, I like how you touched upon inequalities in health care and I feel like you could of gone even deeper with this topic given the vast amount of information you included in your post. All in all, their is no need for the mental health and development of minorities to be inflicted upon due to the racism and discrimination of others. No child, white, black, Latino, etc, should have to grow up in a society where they are told that their race (identity) is wrong and that they are being punished for it.