FPG Faculty Fellow, Iheoma Iruka discusses Racism + Resilience + Resistance Integrative Model
Racism is one of the most destructive and trauma-causing factors affecting the healthy development of children in the United States. This knowledge provides the underpinning for "Effects of Racism on Child Development: Advancing Antiracist Developmental Science" published in December 2022 in Annual Review of Developmental Psychology. The article’s lead author, Iheoma U. Iruka, PhD, is a research professor in UNC’s Department of Public Policy, a fellow at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) and the founding director of the Equity Research Action Coalition at FPG (the Coalition).
The article’s co-authors, who are affiliated with a range of U.S. universities, are members of the Researchers Investigating Sociocultural Equity and Race (RISER) Network. This coalition, co-led and co-founded by Iruka, is committed to promoting and utilizing a strengths-based approach to engage researchers and early care and education policymakers in the undoing of inequitable, racist systems and approaches in research, policy, and practice. The work of the Network dovetails with that of the Coalition, which pursues research and policies that promote and support the healthy development of Black children across the African diaspora and other children of color in the U.S.
In the journal article, the authors share their Racism + Resilience + Resistance Integrative Study of Childhood Ecosystem (R3ISE) Integrative Model, which they describe as "an integrative model that recognizes that to support children's optimal development and ensure they thrive, we must identify the interplay between racism and family and community cultural assets." The model integrates a variety of frameworks—including bio-ecological, critical race theory, life course, and cultural access—which speak to inequities and opportunities in the quest to address comprehensively the ways that racism affects children.
The scholars call out the multiple forms of racism that exist, naming individual racism, institutional/systemic racism, cultural racism, systemic racism, internalized racism, everyday racism (e.g., microaggressions), cyber racism (e.g., online/digital racism), symbolic/modern racism (e.g., negative beliefs or stereotypes), and aversive/implicit/contemporary racism (e.g., avoidance of particular racial groups) as the ways that different institutions and individuals discriminate against others.
“There's a past, present, and future when it comes to systemic inequities, writ large, impacting children both biologically and socioeconomically,” says Iruka.
At the same time, the researchers highlight the cultural assets of Black and other minoritized children, families and communities, in order to elevate them and recognize their full humanity. These assets foster families’ resiliency and enable them to support their children in overcoming the challenges of living through racism.
Iruka emphasizes the importance of understanding the intergenerational impact of racism. Trauma experienced in communities still has an impact generations later. “There's a past, present, and future when it comes to systemic inequities, writ large, impacting children both biologically and socioeconomically,” she says. “We see the effects on children of having enslaved ancestors and we, as a society, have not fully rectified that.”
The model is designed to offer a lens to understand the specific ways that racism impacts children’s healthy development and educational outcomes while helping stakeholders think about how to mitigate these impacts on children. Some of these mitigation efforts include informing and improving policies that focus on economic security and mobility, safe and affordable housing, prenatal care and child health, and access to early intervention and quality education. Iruka argues that if stakeholders do not define racism, operationalize efforts to address and then measure it, it should not be surprising if racist policies continue.
In the article, the writers “implore researchers, educators, and policymakers to use the R3ISE integrative model to continue examining ways to improve and protect the well-being of REM (racially and ethnically minoritized) children and work collaboratively to advance racial equity and dismantle systems that have prevented the full participation of REM children and their families in society.”
Iruka believes that the R3ISE model—which has been well-received by stakeholders—can help policymakers and researchers better understand the mechanisms by which race and racism impact child development. By enabling researchers to think more thoughtfully and precisely and supporting practitioners in using a historical and racialized lens, children and families will be better able to reach their fullest potential.
It is not a coincidence that the word “rise” appears in the names of both the model and the network since that is the goal. “Throughout this work, we want to allow people to rise and reach their potential but we can't do that without talking about racism in all forms, without talking about people's resilience but also discussing their fight for humanity,” says Iruka. “We want people to see racism fully—which is why we're trying to make it visible and visceral—but also show that there are ways we can actually begin to address it.”