Newspaper article

Minority Children with a Strong Sense of Ethnic-Racial Identity Are More Resilient to Harms of Discrimination, Study Finds

Newspaper article

Minority Children with a Strong Sense of Ethnic-Racial Identity Are More Resilient to Harms of Discrimination, Study Finds

Article excerpt

Children as young as 7 years old are able to detect racial and ethnic discrimination aimed at them, according to a recent study.

But children who are raised with a strong sense of their ethnic-racial identity are more resilient to the psychological harm that such discrimination inflicts, the study also found.

“These findings highlight the importance of reducing discrimination and its pernicious effects, as well as promoting a positive sense of ethnic-racial identity and belonging to partially buffer children in the interim,” said Tuppett Yates, one of the study’s authors and a developmental psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, in a released statement.

The study was published in the journal Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology.

Earlier research

As background information in the study points out, the negative effects of discrimination on human development have been documented many, many times in prior studies. Much of that research has been with adults, but studies involving adolescents have found that young people who report more experiences with racial or ethnic discrimination are at greater risk of depression, substance abuse and risky sexual behaviors. They are also less likely to be engaged with and successful in school.

Only a few such studies have examined the issue in children as young as 10, but those findings have been similar. One study, which involved African-American boys aged 10 to 15, found that children’s reports of ethnic-racial discrimination were linked with behavioral problems, feelings of hopelessness and poor self-concepts.

The current study is one of the first, however, to look at how children younger than 10 perceive experiences of discrimination and how those perceptions affect their development over time.

Two rounds of questions

For the study, Yates and her co-author, psychologist Ana Marcelo of Clark University, examined the experiences of 172 children who were 7 years old at the start of the study. Most of the children — 56 percent — were Latino, while 19 percent were black. The rest — 25 percent — were of various multiethnic and multiracial backgrounds. Slightly more than half were boys.

The children were provided the following definition of discrimination:

When people discriminate against other people, it means they treat people badly, or do not respect them, because of the color of their skin, because they speak a different language or have an accent, or because they come from a different country or culture.

They were then given a questionnaire designed specifically to assess the perceived experiences of racism and discrimination of young people their age. The questions asked the children if they had experienced discrimination — a teacher assuming they were not smart or intelligent enough, for example, or a peer not wanting to be friends with them, or someone calling them “an insulting name.” They were also asked to estimate the frequency of these experiences of discrimination.

A year later, the children were brought back for a second round of questions. This time they were presented with a definition of ethnicity:

In this country, people come from a lot of different cultures and there are many different words to describe the different backgrounds or ethnic groups that people come from. Some examples of the names of ethnic groups are Mexican American, Hispanic, Black, Asian American, American Indian, Anglo American and White. …

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