Perspective: How Black reparations could end health disparities

Black reparations for slavery are a long-overdue approach to mitigating persistent disparities between Blacks and whites in the United States, according to a Perspective article in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) co-authored by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Mary Bassett.

Forces that shape societal structures, including power, money, and access to resources, “inevitably become embodied in health and will continue to shape health patterns unless they are addressed,” wrote Bassett, FXB Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights and co-author Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, in the October 8, 2020 article.

The authors noted that while the racial gap in life expectancy has narrowed, Black Americans continue to die an average of four years earlier than white Americans. They also noted that Black Americans earn 65 cents for every dollar earned by white Americans, and the average Black family has about $10 in assets for every $100 accrued by the average white family. “Power, money, and access to resources—good housing, better education, fair wages, safe work places, clean air, drinkable water, and healthier food—translate into good health,” they wrote.

Bassett and Galea contended that efforts to improve health care and lower the disease burden among Black Americans “are bound to fail.” They wrote that reparations would target the underlying causes of health gaps between Black and white Americans.

Read the NEJM Viewpoint article: Reparations as a Public Health Priority — A Strategy for Ending Black–White Health Disparities