THE BLOG
03/08/2016 01:05 pm ET Updated Mar 09, 2017

The Trickle Down Theory of Racism or Why the Republican Discourse Matters for Children

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We have heard it all before -- or at least we thought we have. Parents can't let their kids watch the Republican debates because they don't want their children hearing trash talk between adults. One CNN commentator said his 7-year-old son called him a "liar" but didn't really know what it meant. Other parents worry that bullying is back in style and injunctions to the contrary will go unheeded. Natalie Gross, reporting for the Education Writer's Association, on March 2 tells about the newest way in which this campaign season is trickling down to our children.

The latest outcome of the high school mudslinging seen at the Republican debates is that real high schools in the Midwest are actually using Trump-based insults to intimidate basketball teams with Latino members. Imagine, as a Latino student, being forced to practice dribbling before a game to the cadences of "Trump, Trump, Trump. " Other students at a game in Indiana chanted, "Build a wall." In Sioux City, Iowa, Latino students were bullied and harassed after a Trump rally.

The Republican race has unleashed xenophobia and racism in a flagrant and unashamed way. Why not use Trump taunts if Trump gets away with it? Why not make fun of people for what they look like or their ethnic membership or country of origin? Why not call the members of the other team losers?

But these behaviors come at a price. Racism and discrimination like that manifested at these high schools takes its toll on children -- both for those who are the objects of discrimination as well as for those who observe it. In other words, whether or not children have been a target of such incidents themselves, just seeing it happen has an impact. Hearing Trump put you in a box with drug addicts and rapists, or hearing your age mates chant "Deport" threatens a child's mental health. Racism is associated with depression -- even in children - and living in a racist environment can create a state of vigilance that leads to elevated stress.

What does this mean for families of color or ethnic diversity? And what does this mean for Caucasian families? It all comes down to talk. Talk about why racist comments are harmful and why people might make them. Talk about where the line between fun and insult lies and about taking the perspective of others. Programs, based in talk, like Green Circle developed by the award-winning Dr. Sam Gaertner at the University of Delaware to decrease children's racial and ethnic biases even before they are aware that they have them.

Winning the game is nowhere near as important as how you play it. Stopping trickle down racism will take all of us, from coaches to principals to parents to bystanders.