April 20, 2021

Racism and Public Health Today

The conversation on racism as a public health crisis is long overdue. Beyond conversation, we need action and justice.

Structural racism continues to impact social determinants of health today. Racially discriminatory governing policies and practices contribute to social, economic, and health inequities that people of color face today. For instance, evidence of these inequities is found through racial disparities in poverty rates, law enforcement interactions, and school discipline.

While 9% of white people are living in poverty, 17% of Latinx people, 21% of Black people, and 24% of American Indian/Alaska Native people live below the poverty line, according to KFF.org.

Black Americans are more likely to be stopped by law enforcement, detained pretrial, charged with more serious crimes, and sentenced more harshly than white people. Across the country, Black Americans are 1.81x to 6.51x (an average of 3.23x) as likely to be killed by police as white men (Schwartz & Jahn, 2020).

Black and Latinx students face harsher discipline in school. They are taken out of the class and punished for subjective offenses at higher rates than their white peers. Non-white school districts receive less funding per student (an average of $2,226 less according to edbuild.org), Black students are less likely to attend college, and their lifetime earnings are then reduced by 65% (Manhattan Institute).

What’s Being Done?

Racism has been declared a public health crisis by city councils, health districts, and other official state entities across 32 states and the District of Columbia. These declarations are only the beginning. By officially acknowledging racism as a public health crisis, a powerful stance is taken; however, this is not enough alone. These declarations must be followed by continuous education focused on the pervasiveness of racism and meaningful action to eliminate racism and the harms it has on our communities.

At various levels of government, legislation on housing protection, police accountability, hate crimes, and more have been recently introduced.

In a media statement on April 8, 2021, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, declared racism a serious public health threat. She highlighted the long existence of this epidemic, saying:

“Yet, the disparities seen over the past year were not a result of COVID-19. Instead, the pandemic illuminated inequities that have existed for generations and revealed for all of America a known, but often unaddressed, epidemic impacting public health: racism.”

The statement went on to outline four ways the CDC plans to address the impact of racism on public health:

  • Continuing to study the impact of social determinants on health outcomes
  • Making new and expanded investments in racial and ethnic minority communities
  • Expanding their internal agency efforts to foster diversity and inclusivity
  • Launching a new web portal “Racism and Health

As the nation’s leading public health agency, the CDC’s commitment to this work is critical.

What’s Next?

Eliminating racism will take all of us.

We need to educate ourselves, listen to leaders of color, hold elected officials accountable, and confront racism wherever and whenever it shows up, until justice just is.

Advocacy can look like a range of actions and efforts. Here are a few avenues:

  • Personal: Represent and speak up for yourself and/or your loved ones. Educate yourself on the issues that impact you, your friends, your family, and your community
  • Community: Represent the rights and interests of your community. Educate those around you so you can work together to build the strongest community possible
  • Legislative: Work with elected officials (at local, state, or federal levels) to educate and influence them on important legislative decisions
  • Media: Increase public awareness and influence public interest in eliminating systemic and institutional racism. Promote racial justice through letters to the editor, social media, etc.
  • Policy: Influence laws, regulations, and rules that have an impact on racial justice. This can be as lofty as federal regulation or as simple as a rule at your workplace

Be sure to register for Stand Against Racism to continue this courageous conversation.

Stand Against Racism 2021: Addressing Racism as a Public Health Crisis

Stand Against Racism will be held on April 22nd from 5:30pm – 7:00pm. To learn more and register, visit ywcaspokane.org/sar2021.

Register Today!

If you have…

5 Minutes


10 Minutes


20 Minutes

and and
Check out this graphic
on how to be an ally from YWCA Greater Harrisburg.
and Explore this website
on racism and health equity from the CDC
and Listen to or Read this podcast and article
for tips on putting in the work to be anti-racist from NPR.

By: Jemma Riedel-Johnson

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