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Ethnic pride can improve mental health in black children…

November 17, 2009 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( A recent study has suggested that ethnic pride can play a positive role in the mental health of African-American youth. The study, which involved more than 250 African-American young people from low-income, urban environments, found a correlation between increased ethnic pride and improved mental health among 7th and 8th graders. With boys, in particular, ethnic pride also played a positive role in overcoming depression. According to the study’s lead author Jelani Mandara, associate professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University, “parents, schools, and therapists should expose young people to material and environments that help foster a sense of ethnic pride.”

Of course this is nothing new to the many parents and activist groups who have long argued that the proper inclusion of African-American history in public school curriculums contributes to positive self-esteem in children, not to mention higher academic achievement. The states of New Jersey, New York and Illinois have created Amistad commissions, named after the Spanish slave ship that was the site of the 1839 slave revolt. Amistad was also the subject of the 1997 Steven Spielberg-directed film that brought popular awareness to the revolt and led to an effort to champion and implement the inclusion of African-American history in general as opposed to just slavery, in school curriculums, particularly at the high school level.

While it is important that all children learn black history, especially given its pivotal role in American history, it is even more vital for African-American children. Chicago-based educational consultant and advocate Jawanza Kunjufu, known for such provocative works as “The Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys“, and many others have made this point for years. If a child never sees his or her culture positively reflected in the overall society, then how can he or she envision a positive role within that society?

As important as academic achievement is, however, it’s key that this study doesn’t emphasize it. Mental health and academic achievement are not one and the same. A child can perform well academically even when a strong ethnic identity is missing. For many of us, such behavior isn’t rare. Highly educated and successful African-Americans lacking a positive ethnic identity are not uncommon.

While race does not wholly define a person, there’s no denying that it plays a significant role in the lives of many African-Americans, especially in the United States. With children, that reality can be very confusing. Presenting multiple examples of achievement, be it in medicine, law, politics or even sports and entertainment, emphasizes choices. There is no one avenue to success, nor is it defined by money and other superficial factors. By reiterating this, hopefully children learn to live up to their own potential.

Only recently has the black community as a whole begun to direct attention to the importance of mental stability. Is it not plausible that the perpetrators in the Derrion Albert murder suffer from poor mental health and lack ethnic pride?

It is important to note that racial pride and racial propaganda are not the same. Racial superiority is not healthy either. It is essential that children are taught that people make different contributions and that one group is not inherently better than another. Freeing a child from limitations, societal or personal, is important in cultivating a stronger sense of self.

Although this study isn’t necessarily news to many people’s ears, it is important that the correlation between ethnic pride and mental health among African-American is being studied. As this nation continues to evolve, the significance of understanding the necessary tools for building a better America can’t be overstated. Young people who feel good about themselves directly benefit all of society.

In time, these researchers may find that they’ve unlocked the key to preventing substance abuse, crime and other ills that keep a child from unlocking his or her full potential, and ultimately robbing this country of talents that can continue moving it forward.

Written By Ronda Racha Penrice

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