Hatred has never caused anything but pain—for its victims surely, and for those who witness it or hear about it. In an ideal world, there would be no room for hate in the human heart.
No room for racism, ethnicism, LGBTQ-ism, anti-semitism, anti-muslimism, immigrantism, and disdain for those with disabilities. But, the world is far from ideal. People are far from perfect. We all have our biases, our stereotypes and our assumptions. Most of us try to remain open, learn and correct as we go—or I hope so. If we don’t, we need to.
Sadly, some of our current national leadership has enabled, supported and promoted both an unmasking and resurgence of hatred in our country—hatred that resulted in the ripping of children from their parents at our Southern border, hatred that sometimes erupts into violence and even death. But, hatred is violent even when there is no physical harm done. The current hatred agenda has largely been directed at African-Americans and Latino immigrants, but has also been pretty inclusive of anyone who can be cast as “other” in the last few years.
As human beings, we should be alarmed and frightened—this hatred is directed at people, our fellow travelers, in an attempt to demean and dehumanize them. It erodes the souls and spirits of those it is directed at, and it is eroding what is good and worthy in our country. Something must be done. And, we pediatricians have something to do about the –“isms”.
As pediatricians we are experts not only in child health and healthcare, but in prevention, parenting, development, and resilience-promotion. We know that felt discrimination against individuals triggers their stress responses and, unmitigated, this can result in lifelong harm to their health, mental health and social-emotional wellness.
From the viewpoint of prevention:
We can implement an advisory board for our clinics that includes a range of the families we serve to optimize best practices. We can look with them at our clinical settings and whether they are psychologically safe and welcoming to all families and children. We can decorate our offices with messages that welcome everyone.
From the viewpoint of parenting:
We can use our relationships with families to understand their goals for their families and their values. We can discuss with families the challenges and benefits of raising children in a multicultural and diverse world; we can remind them that their children have the richness of humanity to learn from but they might need some skills to navigate this world. Certainly, navigating it will be easier and, practically speaking, safer if all children learn openness, tolerance and acceptance of others.
From the viewpoint of resilience promotion:
We can ask children and families about their experiences with racism and discrimination and validate the pain. We can learn from our patients and families by gaining insight into how they cope and are coping, how they socialize their children to manage in a world where they might be singled out and shamed because of the color of their skin, their religion, their ethnicity, the language they speak, or a disability. We can identify and reinforce their strengths.
From the multiple viewpoints of prevention, advocacy and resilience:
We can offer to speak with school and childcare staff, and local community organizations about this topic. We can learn the issues in our own communities and join groups working on these issues. We can advocate for equitable and safe housing, insurance coverage and access to care, worker protections and benefits, safe neighborhoods and communities, and address the root causes of inequities by making them visible.
As human beings, we cannot remain silent when people suffer in the face of bias, discrimination, and inequities. We cannot remain silent when a child or adult is bullied or injured by words.
We cannot remain silent when a child with disabilities is excluded from participating in age-appropriate events when minor or moderate modifications would enable them to. We cannot remain silent when children are ripped from their parents at the border. We cannot remain silent as racism and hatred in myriad forms erodes the well-being and sometimes takes the lives of our African-American brothers and sisters. We cannot remain silent when a disease like COVID disproportionately takes the health and lives of African-Americans, LatinX and Indigenous people. We cannot remain silent when we witness discrimination or bias because silence implies approval and emboldens those whose agenda is hatred. And, we have to address discrimination, segregation, bias, and exclusion at all levels: the individual level, the systems level and the societal level. We must change policies and laws, but also hearts and minds.
As pediatricians, we know that every person we meet or interact with has a story and that we do not know what they are carrying on their shoulders today. In the face of hatred, we can remain dignified and take the high road, we can be polite in the face of rudeness, and we can still speak out. We have to speak out and build a humane agenda that promotes equity, diversity, inclusion and respect for the dignity of each and every individual.