Racism is a Public Health Issue. It’s Time to Treat it Like One.
The impacts of racism on health outcomes and wellbeing has been well documented over the last two decades, but it is long past due to look beyond the academic language of “health inequity” and “social determinants of health” to tell it like it is: racism in education, housing, employment and generational wealth, and access to healthcare has long been at the root of unequal health outcomes. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the impact of structural racism into stark focus: people of color - particularly Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic/Latinx communities - are more likely to contract COVID-19, more likely to become hospitalized, and more likely to die of the disease. While these issues require a multifaceted response across grassroots community organizers, professionals and professional associations, and state and local governments, the incoming administration has an opportunity to advance a coordinated, federally funded effort to tackle racism as a public health issue.
At a minimum, Congress and the incoming Biden Administration should support and sign into law the bicameral Anti-Racism in Public Health Act introduced by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-7), Congresswoman Barbara Lee(D-CA-13), and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), which will lay the foundation for future federal health policy that directly addresses racism as a public health issue by:
- Declaring racism a public health crisis that defines structural racism as an issue for which there must be a nationally coordinated response and commitment to short- and long-term interventions
- Supporting comprehensive data collection and research on the impact of structural racism in public health through the creation of the National Center for Anti-Racism at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Establishing a public health-informed approach to addressing the physical and emotional impact of police brutality through the creation of a Law Enforcement Violence Prevention Program within the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC
While only one of many necessary steps to meaningfully address the impact of racism on health outcomes, enacting this legislation sends an important signal: this is an issue of the highest priority deserving of attention and resources from the ground up, because systemic issues require systematic responses.