Racism as a public health crisis in 2019? (Jan. 1)

May 5, 2018 was the bicentennial of the birth of Karl Marx. There were commemorative events held worldwide. Throughout 2018 there was a renewed interest in Marx’s theory of scientific socialism and his critique of capitalism.

Now, suppose the University of California-Berkley released a study to coincide with Marx’s bicentennial celebration, and the study detailed the long-term effects of capitalist exploitation on marginalized workforces across America. Suppose, the study compared the material, mental, and physical well-being of the marginalized to the majority population and concluded that capitalist exploitation contributed to disparities in wealth, depression, and substance abuse, which correlated to disparities in infant mortality rates and shortened the life expectancy of the marginalized. Then, based on the data, 20 American city councils, whose economies have historically suffered from deindustrialization, decided to declare capitalism a health crisis in an effort to start a national conversation about America’s fractured market economy.

A lot of people would be sympathetic to the sentiment, but they wouldn’t take it as a serious course of action.

Now, 2019 had its own historical significance. It was the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans to the Jamestown colony in 1619. The New York Times Magazine published, the 1619 Project, a collection of essays examining the lingering effects of slavery in modern America.

In June, Milwaukee County officials declared racism a public health crisis. Inequality.org reported, “Milwaukee is one of the most racially unequal cities in the county, coming in at No. 2 last year on a list of ‘The worst cities for Black Americans’ by 24/7 Wall Street, a financial news site. The report blamed Milwaukee’s discriminatory housing policies throughout the 20th century for the city’s current inequity …By declaring racism, a public health crisis, Milwaukee County officials are committing to put racial equity at the core of all city procedures, to advocate for policies that improve health in communities of color, and to train their employees on how racism impacts residents…Finally, they hope to encourage other local, state, and national officials to recognize racism as a public health issue.”

Milwaukee County officials were encouraging.

In August, Ronnie Dunn, associate professor of urban affairs at Cleveland State University, created Project 400. Throughout the year Project 400 held a conference, a Call to Action Summit titled 400 Years of Inequality, and an arts festival. The Call to Action Summit examined the notion of racism as a public health crisis. Dunn said, “Structural racism is not going to be eradicated in our lifetime, but this is the appropriate time to make a concerted effort to have the important conversations.”

In the same month, Kansas City Councilwoman Melissa Robinson drafted a resolution to declare racism a public health crisis due to the disparities in life expectancy between Black men and White women. The resolution had two objectives. 1). To start a conversation about the impact of racism on public health. 2). Establish a comprehensive plan to address inequalities that leave Black men vulnerable to early deaths.

In October, Madison’s city council signed on to Wisconsin Public Health Association’s resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. According to WPHA there has been growing recognition that racism independently impacts health outcomes.

In December, Pittsburgh’s city council declared racism a public health crisis. Their decision was based on a study done by the University of Pittsburgh called Pittsburgh’s Inequality Across Gender and Race. The study pointed out for every dollar White men earn, White women earn 78 cents, while Black women earn 54 cents, and Black women are five times more likely to live in poverty than are White men. White life expectancy is eight years longer than Blacks, and death rates from cardiovascular disease and cancer are much higher among Blacks.

Once again, a lot of people will be sympathetic to the sentiment, but…

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

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