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July 28, 2021

Intergenerational Effects of Racism: Can Psychiatry and Psychology Make a Difference for Future Generations?

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, New York State Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University Irving Medical Center, New York
  • 2The New School, New York, New York
JAMA Psychiatry. 2021;78(10):1065-1066. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2021.1852

The fields of psychiatry and psychology have not sufficiently attended to the detrimental and pervasive effects of racism and racial discrimination on the mental health of historically and currently marginalized racial and ethnic minority populations. Over the past 3 decades, Williams and Cooper1 and others have reported how structural racism and the experience of racial discrimination across the life span have deleterious consequences for physical and mental health. Importantly, these effects are distinct from those of poverty; racism is a fundamental cause of socioeconomic disparities, which in turn are principal drivers of health disparities. Considerably less attention has been paid to understanding the intergenerational ramifications of racism. Herein, we argue that just as exposure to adversity (a common consequence of racism) likely has intergenerational ramifications, the harms of racism can cross generations. Discussion of the consequences of racism intergenerationally is not free of challenging ethical implications, including the risk of increasing stigma by suggesting a type of biological determinism. Nevertheless, adopting an intergenerational approach in understanding the effects of racism can provide opportunities for prevention and intervention in psychiatry and psychology.

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