You may have seen it in the headlines these past few weeks: “Racism is a public health issue.” Although the country is now fully aware that racism is still a problem in our society, many don’t quite understand exactly how exactly this ties in with the health of our country and its African American citizens. A quick Google search will bring up countless studies on the topic, so we recommend you take a look at the research that confirms black Americans are at odds with maintaining their health and wellness on a daily basis simply because of the color of their skin.
Just as with most things in life, one thing leads to another. A causes B, which leads to C and so on and so forth. Take COVID-19. We are continuing to see the spread – and even serious increases – in the deadly virus because of early reopenings in more than half the states in the country. A (not wearing a mask, easing up on social distancing, “pretending” the virus is behind us) causes B (an increase in case counts), which leads to C (overrun hospitals and, ultimately, more deaths).
The same goes for racism. Children are born without a single thought, word or experience. As that child is raised, he or she is exposed to the vocabulary, expressions and conversations of others (A). If those experiences are filled with intolerance, negativity and racist remarks, he or she will naturally create his or her own opinions and reactions toward that subject (B). As that same child grows – who once was a blank canvas with an open heart and mind – the cycle of hatred and racism continues, ultimately setting those on the receiving end up for continued mistreatment and disrespect (C).
So, what does this have to do with the connection between racism and public health?
American Public Health Association Past-President Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, MPH, PhD, had this to say on the APHA website: “Racism is a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks (which is what we call ‘race’), that unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities, unfairly advantages other individuals and communities, and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources.”
Imagine that the color of your skin prevented you from being considered for a job opening (A). Although there are measures in place that are intended to prevent this from happening, it, unfortunately, still takes place. Without that job, you can’t save money to attend college (B). You won’t have access to health care and won’t be able to afford to buy it on your own (B). At this crossroads, two things may occur: 1. Your health and wellbeing – including that of your mental health – diminishes. Signs for things like blood pressure, cancer and diseases for which you are statistically at a higher rate go unrecognized and your health diminishes (C). 2. You turn to a life of poor choices just to allow yourself and your family the luxury of surviving (C).
As we connect the dots and continue to search for ways to raise awareness for the importance not only for healthcare for everyone, but equal rights for all, we are reminded that no one human is more superior to another. We’re all entitled to access the health and wellness programs that allow us to live our best lives. But it starts with YOU. How will you change the way society interprets this knowledge? Will you raise up our young people to see human beings for their potential, for their gift and for their worth or will you continue to feed the mouth of racism by seeing color as a basis for job opportunity, friendship, healthcare and the right to live?