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Monday, January 3, 2022

Systemic Considerations in Child Development and the Pursuit of Racial Equality in the United States

Perry, S., Skinner-Dorkenoo, A. L., 
Wages, J., & Abaied, J. L. (2021, October 8). 


In this commentary on Lewis’ (2021) article in Psychological Inquiry, we expand on ways that both systemic and interpersonal contexts contribute to and uphold racial inequalities, with a particular focus on research on child development and socialization. We also discuss the potential roadblocks that may undermine the effectiveness of Lewis’ (2021) recommended strategy of relying on experts as a driving force for change. We conclude by proposing additional strategies for pursuing racial equality that may increase the impact of experts, such as starting anti-racist socialization early in development, family-level interventions, and teaching people about racial injustices and their connections to systemic racism.

From the Conclusion

Ultimately, the expert (Myrdal) concluded that the problem was White people and how they think about and structure society. Despite the immense popularity of his book among the American public and the fact that it did motivate some policy change (Brown v. Board of Education, Warren& Supreme Court of The United States, 1953), many of the same issues persist to this day. As such, we argue that, although relying on experts may be an appealing recommendation, history suggests that our efforts to reduce racial inequality in the U.S. will require substantial, widespread investment from White U.S. residents in order for real change to occur. Based on the literature reviewed here, significant barriers to such investment remain, many of which begin in early childhood. Beyond pursuing policies that promote structural equality on the advice of experts in ways that do not trigger backlash, we should support policies that educate the public—with a special emphasis on childhood socialization—on the history of systemic racism and the past and continued intentional efforts to create and maintain racial inequalities. 

Building upon recommendations offered by Lewis, we also argue that we need to move the societal bar from simply being non-racist, to being actively anti-racist. As a society, we need to recalibrate our norms, such that passively going along with systemic racism will no longer be acceptable (Tatum, 2017). In the summer of 2020, after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, many organizations released statements in support of the Black Lives Movement, confronting systemic racism, and increasing social justice (Nguyen, 2020). But one question that many posed was whether these organizations and institutions were genuinely committed to tackling systemic racism, or if their acts were performative (Duarte, 2020). If groups, organizations, and institutions want to claim that they are committed to anti-racism, then they should be held accountable for these claims and provide concrete evidence of their efforts to dismantle the pervasive system of racial oppression. In addition to this, we recommend a greater investment in educating the public on the history of systemic racism (particularly with children; such as the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum implemented in the state of California), prompting White parents to actively be anti-racist and teach their children to do the same, and equitable structural policies that facilitate residential and school racial integration to increase quality interracial contact.