Op-ed: ‘Racism is a public health crisis’

Racism is killing black Americans—both by fueling police violence against them and by propelling adverse socioeconomic conditions that contribute to serious health issues, according to a June 4, 2020 op-ed in the Washington Post by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Dean Michelle Williams and Jeffrey Sánchez, a former Massachusetts state representative and a lecturer at Harvard Chan.

George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers is “a visceral reminder of a reality we have come to know all too well: Racism is a public health crisis,” wrote Williams and Sánchez.

Police violence kills black Americans at nearly three times the rate of white Americans, they wrote. And social determinants of health—the conditions into which people are born and live, work, and play—are key drivers of health inequities that are killing them, too.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the inequities even further, the authors wrote, noting that “predominantly black counties are seeing three times the rate of infection—and six times the rate of covid-related death—as white counties.” In addition, people of color make up a disproportionate number of the essential workers who are at higher risk of contracting the disease; if they do get sick, they’re more likely to receive worse care than whites and to have underlying health conditions that make COVID-19 more deadly.

“We have the tools to identify the many ways that decades of entrenched discrimination are hurting health and cutting lives short to this day,” the authors wrote. “And we cannot let this moment and the growing call for justice fade without making those connections clear—and pressing for meaningful policy change.”

Read the Washington Post op-ed: Racism is killing black people. It’s sickening them, too.