Racism is a Public Health Crisis
As COVID-19 continues to ravage through black communities, there seems to be no end in sight. Time after time, communities of color are disproportionately impacted by crises occurring in the United States. This is evident in the response to Hurricane Katrina, the HIV epidemic, H1N1 and many more crises we have seen in this country. Not only are people of color devalued in times of crisis, they are also devalued in prosperous times as well.
We often see inequities in socioeconomic status, health, and education. For example, when examining socioeconomic status, the median White family wealth is $171,000 compared to $17,600 for Black families. In health, Black people are also more likely to develop high blood pressure, asthma, and diabetes because of social conditions that have left people of color at a disadvantage. Finally, when looking at education, districts serving mostly students of color receive roughly $2,000 less per student than districts with the fewest students of color. All of these gaps between Black and White people have been exacerbated during COVID-19.
Wealth to fall back on is more important than ever with millions of people filing for unemployment. An underlying disease can mean a death sentence now with the presence of COVID-19. Lastly, underfunded districts cannot help students with the necessities of remote learning such as laptops and Wi-Fi.
All of these inequities are rooted in racist policies and practices such as the destruction of “Black Wall Street”, the GI Bill, distrust of the medical system, and Jim Crow Era’s “Black Codes”. The racist policies and practices we see and the inequities they create bring attention to another public health crisis that is often ignored but more apparent now during COVID-19, systemic racism. Systemic racism can be described as the failure of systems in the United States that manifest themselves in inequities for people of color like the ones described earlier in this article. Some places such as Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Madison have noticed this long-lasting public health crisis and have decided to do something about it.
In 2019, Milwaukee County, which is one of the counties where Black people are dying and being affected at much higher rates from COVID-19 compared to White people, was the first local government to declare racism as public health crisis. According to Milwaukee County Executive, Chris Abele, the proclamation makes it, “a legal requirement now to make decisions based on addressing and eliminating race disparities.” Milwaukee County officials now pledge to put racial equity at the center of all city procedures, to advocate for policies that improve health in communities of color, and to train employees on how racism affects residents. A few months after Milwaukee declared racism a public health crisis, Madison, WI did the same and a few months after that, Pittsburgh, PA followed suit.
In any city or state, you will find signs of systemic racism because the United States was built upon slavery, genocide, and racist policies that have continuously disparaged people of color. For these reasons, naming racism as a public health crisis is one step in the right direction of correcting 400 years of oppression. Other city leaders are starting to recognize this as well. In Boston, Councilor Arroyo has requested that racism be named as a public health crisis. Arroyo would like Boston to have an independent office that can assess how city officials can play a role in reducing racism. In Kansas City, Councilwoman Melissa Robinson drafted a resolution to declare racism a public health crisis after data revealed that a Black man in Kansas City is expected to live 20 years less than a White woman living roughly ten minutes away.
Many people refuse to believe that racism is still alive and well after the Civil Rights movement, but racism is very complex and the ways in which we see it have changed. The inequities that we see in education, the criminal justice system, healthcare, and so much more are proof that racism is still alive and well. If 16 states are able to declare pornography a public health crisis using questionable science, then I see no reason why we cannot name racism, something that directly affects millions in this country, a public health crisis nationally.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.