Racism as a Public Health Crisis:
How Local Governments are Responding
Crystal N. Lewis, Ruqaiijah Yearby, Charysse Gibson, Abby R. Jaeger, & Maya T. Lawson
Over 300 localities have started addressing racism and its impacts on health by acknowledging that racism is a public health crisis (RPHC). Local governments have responded to RPHC through various measures such as declarations, proclamations, resolutions, statements, pledges, executive orders, etc. Published in September of 2020, the first Institute for Healing Justice & Equity (IHJE) report entitled, Racism is a Public Health Crisis. Here’s How to Respond., defined the system of racism, analyzed racism within the context of the social determinants of health framework (SDOH), discussed why RPHC, and provided recommendations for responding to RPHC. Building on the first IHJE report, this report discusses:
- Health impacts of racism;
- Local governmental responses; and
- Recommendations for responding to RPHC.
Racism is a social system that “determines how opportunity is structured, which unfairly disadvantages some racial and ethnic minority individuals and communities; unfairly advantages White individuals and communities; and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources.” Life expectancy, infant mortality, maternal mortality, and the burden of disease are typical measures used to determine a group’s health compared to other groups. Compared to citizens of other industrial countries, like the U.K., all racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. suffer disparities in life expectancy, infant mortality, pregnant people mortality, and the burden of disease. These disparities are in large part due to racism.
As of December 2021, IHJE found 313 unique localities (e.g. villages, towns, townships, boroughs, cities, counties, and the District of Columbia) that responded to RPHC. IHJE also found that 16 state governmental entities responded to RPHC. Even if a locality has responded to RPHC, dismantling racism is a long-term endeavor that requires consistent actions. Thus, IHJE recommends that localities responding to RPHC:
- Identify racism as a system;
- Adopt truth, reconciliation, & healing processes;
- Center racial equity in all operations;
- Implement policies & procedures for inclusive economic growth; and
- Collect community specific data & consistently evaluate.
As localities continue to respond and address RPHC, IHJE will continue to track and analyze this information. In future reports, IHJE will discuss the work of community organizations (nonprofits, churches, hospitals, affinity groups, associations, etc.) that are often driving and contributing to these local governmental responses.
Published 3 September 2020