Racism: A Public Health Crisis
Long-standing inequities in health care, income, housing, education and many other factors that influence health and well-being have widened during the COVID-19 pandemic. These inequities are largely driven by racism and biases embedded in our systems, institutions, policies and practices. This structural racism results in a lack of access and opportunity, and increased sickness and premature death among communities of color. For example, compared to white women, Black women (across socioeconomic status) are three times more likely to die within one year of childbirth. American Indian/Alaska Native, Black and Hispanic youth graduate high school at rates significantly lower than white youth. In 2019, the median wealth for Black and Hispanic families was about $24,000 and $36,000, respectively, compared to $188,000 for white families. The public health community must address racism as the key driver of poorer health for communities of color and health disparities.
We must transform our systems and dismantle policies and practices that uphold racism and continue inequities. We must make racial equity central to health equity. Work with your local leaders to enact resolutions, policies and programs that address racism as a public health crisis. Urge your members of Congress to support voting rights and health equity legislation that can help address the health disparities and inequities disproportionately affecting communities of color. Advocate for policies and practices that promote truth telling and racial healing. Apply a racial equity lens to all decisions about policies and programs.
Racism shapes where and how people live and what resources and opportunities they have. Racism directly affects the physical and mental health of people of color.
Yet the communities most impacted by structural racism are often excluded from processes where decisions are made that directly affect their lives. Meaningful community engagement processes, civic engagement strategies such as participatory budgeting and efforts to promote power sharing and power building with communities can ensure that community priorities are centered in decisionmaking. This can also result in more equitable distribution of power and resources, which, when coupled with explicit health equity goals, can improve people’s health and well-being.
Where you are.
Racism harms us all. While people of color experience more direct negative consequences on their health and wellness due to racism, the inequity driven by racism affects society as a whole. A 2020 estimate found that closing racial gaps in income, wealth and education could add $5 trillion to the U.S. economy over the next five years. Ensuring schools are integrated by race and social economic status improves educational attainment for low-income students, and long-term racial relations and social cohesion for all students. Further, by naming and addressing racism and advancing racial equity, we can also address other areas of marginalization, including ability, gender, sexual orientation and age. We can combat climate change and other environmental health challenges, and their disproportionate impact on front-line communities and communities of color.