“Systemic racism is not just a concept perpetrated outside these walls; it is a crushing reality for people of color in their daily lived experiences here at the CDC” states a letter signed by 1,200 current employees at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The letter calls for the CDC to address racism and discrimination against Black employees at the agency. The inequalities experienced by Black employees at an institution that is supposed to serve all Americans reinforces the link between racism and public health disparities. When racism goes unaddressed within the CDC, how can we expect the CDC to respond to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black communities across the US?
Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, a medical officer at the CDC for 14 years says, “We are squandering genius. We’re squandering insight. We’re squandering talent within CDC that could then lead CDC’s mission to address the health issues of the nation.” Note that Dr Jones can call out racism at the CDC because she no longer works there — CDC employees are prohibited from speaking to the press without authorization. When people from diverse backgrounds are denied seats at the decision-making table, solutions to health crises are bound to neglect the needs of people of color and others facing discrimination.
Racism in the health system is nothing new. Throughout US history, Black Americans have faced discrimination in a system pledged to protect them. Structural inequality and the daily stress of a society defined by white supremacy have led to worse health outcomes for Black people. The pandemic, killing Black people at a rate twice that of whites, makes this fact very clear.
We will not improve public health enough to defeat the pandemic if we fail to address the racism in all of our institutions, especially those responsible for promoting health. We encourage you to learn about and undo the connections between racism and health, and to support initiatives that lessen the impact of COVID-19 on Black communities.
March For Health Justice!
As an organization with the mission to promote health and justice, we are doing our part to help protestors stay as safe as possible. We have posted a Health Protection and Security for Protest Marches fact sheet in English, Spanish, French, and Chinese to help people stay safe from COVID-19 while they are taking to the streets.