2020 –The perfect vision year. A year for reflection. A time to contemplate what came before and what is ahead. Days into its sixth month, one thing is certain: 2020 has laid bare the results of an uncured and oft ignored disease that pervades our society–racism.
Whether we are talking about the disproportionate rates of COVID-19 contraction and related deaths, the weaponizing of white privilege/whiteness, or the senseless deaths resulting from police brutality, racism is the ultimate underlying cause, and these are merely symptoms of the larger disease.
There is no greater time to declare racism a public health crisis. As Black people, we cannot live in our homes without fear of being shot by the police (Atatiana Jefferson and Breonna Taylor), jog in our neighborhoods without being violently hunted down (Ahmaud Arbery), go bird watching without a threat based on our racial background (Christian Cooper), and we cannot even buy a pack of cigarettes without losing our life (George Floyd). Black people are being dehumanized, unfairly treated, and responded to with unnecessary force for simply being.
As a result of the trauma inflicted by racism and the purposeful and historic disinvestment in our social and economic well-being, people of color live with disproportionately higher cortisol levels, higher rates of chronic stress and chronic diseases, and too often pay the ultimate price with their lives.
And yet, so many of us are afraid to say it, to name it, to call out what has plagued our health system and our country for centuries: RACISM. Whether institutional, interpersonal or internalized, racism is the principal disease taking the lives of people of color, especially Black people.
As public health practitioners and students, we cannot afford to be silent. We cannot dance around the root cause of what ails our society. We have a responsibility to find our places in the ecosystem of social change and work to improve our capacity to talk about, confront, and dismantle racism at every level. Let’s not be bystanders in history. Let’s change how we teach, how we learn, how we talk. Let’s change the world, and let’s start today!
Three ways to begin:
Start by learning about racism, health equity and the connection to public health. Encourage others to do so as well. Here are some good resources:
- How to Be an Anti-Racist (Ibram Kendi)
- How Racism Makes Us Sick (David Williams)
- Level of Racism: A Theoretic Framework and a Gardner’s Tale (Camara Phyllis Jones)
- The 1619 Project Curriculum (Nikole Hannah-Jones)
- Organize and/or attend a rally in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and to protest police brutality;
- Sign petitions (Nationally at Change.org; and here in Connecticut at Health Equity Solutions); intentionally include readings on racism and health in your syllabus;
- ·Donate to organizations working to eliminate racism. There are several options right here in Connecticut and many more nationwide.
3) SPEAK UP:
If we are silent, we are complicit. Your voice is needed. Your activism is needed. The time is now.
There are two intertwined public health crises underway in America—racism and COVID-19—and as public health practitioners and students we must take action to end the deadly threat posed by both.
Tekisha Dwan Everette, Ph.D., is executive director of Hartford-based Health Equity Solutions, an organization that promotes health equity in Connecticut. She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Yale School of Public Health.
This is part of a series of essays by Yale School of Public Health faculty, alumni and students on the issues of race and racism in the United States following the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing protests against police brutality throughout the United States. We remember, too, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and countless Americans who came before.