New York City made national news when its Board of Health racism declared a public health problem last month. According to an American Database of the Association for Public Health, 227 similar statements were made by governments, health agencies and elected officials across the country; 49 statements were approved in the Western states and 79 in the Midwest states.
Milwaukee County, Wisconsin was the tip of the spear when it passed it declaration of racism as public health crisis on May 20, 2019. At the time, then Milwaukee County executive Chris Abele said the resolution was about a public commitment to action. He said every decision across the county should be framed in terms of how to make a difference by addressing disparities.
In February, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) reintroduced the bicameral Law against racism in public health declare structural racism a public health crisis. The CDC also drew attention to how racism affects disease rates and life expectancy.
These important milestones should be treated as such by health equity journalists. Viewing racism as a public and systemic health problem that impacts our collective health rather than personal actions that need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis is a notable change.
A look at some alarming statistics
More than three decades of public health studies have concluded that pervasive racism has a negative impact on the health of blacks. “Racism attacks people’s physical and mental health. And racism is an ongoing public health crisis that needs our attention now! “said Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association in a statement.
Black women are up to par four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. Black men are more than twice as likely to be killed by the police like white men. And the average the life expectancy of African Americans is four years lower compared to the rest of the US population.
These statistics and those reflected in the disproportionate effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color have prompted many entities to recognize the health inequalities perpetuated by racism.
Breaking it down
As the nation’s media epicenter, everything that happens in New York is great news. But the attention the city has received is well deserved for several reasons. The New York City Health Department is one of the largest public health agencies in the world and one of the oldest in the country. He is also believed to be the first to take concrete steps to chart a course correction ensuring a “fair racial recovery” from the coronavirus pandemic.
The statement also called on the department to work with other agencies to eradicate systemic racism within policies, plans and budgets on a wide range of health-impacting issues, including land use, transportation and l ‘instruction. He also directed the department to improve data collection practices and examine both the health code and history for structural bias.
“One of the ways racism expresses itself politically is inaction in the face of need,” said Michelle Morse, MD, MPH, medical director and deputy commissioner at the New York City Department of Health, in a New York Times article.
Although formal resolutions and statements do not have the force and effect of law, they serve as important indicators of what a company prioritizes and values. They can also shift the narrative and drive changes in policies, laws and resource allocation and create the opportunity for strategic actions that promote racial equity. The statements also emphasize systems and structures rather than attributing inequalities to personal shortcomings.
How to cover this story and useful resources
When reporting on these statements, reporters need to go beyond the main line and report on places that have implemented actionable policies. Here are three great resources for journalists pursuing this story: