There are no words to describe how racism feels. Everyone deals with it differently. Some people lash out verbally, others withdraw into themselves. Some people can talk openly about how it feels, others hide it deep within… How many of our children are trying to learn in racist classrooms? How does a child reach their full potential and exercise their rights as citizens of this country when they are given messages every day that they are worthless human beings? What if it was your son or daughter? What would you do?
Racist interactions experienced by children and adolescents can take the form of name-calling, teasing, being excluded, physical threats, and cyber-bullying stemming from the target’s racial and ethnic differences, such as skin color and cultural practices. Douglass found adolescents report an average of 3.5 racial/ethnic teasing experiences every 21 days. While she found the interactions were guised as being humorous they nevertheless had adverse effects on the target’s self-evaluation and psychological well being. In our (Iyer and Haslam, 2003) research, 86% of South Asian-American women reported being racially and ethnically teased as children, and for many such experiences contributed to low self-esteem, depression, body image dissatisfaction, and disordered eating. While such interactions can take place anywhere, i.e., at a grocery store or at a shopping mall, given the amount of time children are in school they are most likely to occur within a school setting. These experiences can lead targets and their parents to feel helpless and not know how to respond. Listed below are signs to look for that might indicate your child is being victimized, followed by suggestions for empowering your child and yourself to face these difficult situations.