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Racism as a Public Health Crisis

What makes a public health crisis?

Boston University School of Public Health states that a Public Health Crisis must meet three qualifiers:

1. The problem must affect large numbers of people.

2. It must threaten health over the long-term.

3. It must require the adoption of large-scale solutions.


Health Equity Solutions states that systemic/structural racism impacts the lives of 100+ million BIPOC in the U.S.  Systemic/structural racism has negatively impacted the quality of life of BIPOC since the "founding" of the United States from genocide and chattel slavery to mass incarceration, Jim Crow, segregation, redlining, etc.  Rectifying structural racism requires reconstruction of policy for land-rights, housing, education, food access, environmental justice, healthcare access, etc. 


BIPOC - Black, Indigenous, People of Color

Racism -  Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.  The belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another. (Oxford Languages)

Systemic/structural racism - The systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another. (Merriam - Webster Dictionary)   This refers to the systematic marginalization embedded in our institutions and policies that results in oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges some people and disadvantages others.  (abridged from the Anti-Defamation League)

Chattel slavery - A chattel slave is an enslaved person who is owned forever and whose children and children's children are automatically enslaved. Chattel slaves are individuals treated as complete property, to be bought and sold. (The Abolition Project)

Redlining - A discriminatory practice that puts services (financial and otherwise) out of reach for residents of certain areas based on race or ethnicity. It can be seen in the systematic denial of mortgages, insurance, loans, and other financial services based on location (and that area’s default history) rather than on an individual’s qualifications and creditworthiness. Notably, the policy of redlining is felt the most by residents of minority neighborhoods. (Investopedia)


What is being done in Connecticut?

  • 21 CT Towns and Cities, along with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, have already declared Racism as a Public Health Crisis.  They are: Bloomfield, Bridgeport, Colchester, Easton, Glastonbury, Hamden, Hartford, Manchester, Middletown, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Old Saybrook, Simsbury, South Windsor, Westport, West Hartford, West Haven, Windham, Windsor, and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.
  • The Connecticut General Assembly is considering two bills being put forward for the 21-22 legislative year.

         SB-1, Sections 6 and 7 - This bill was passed by the CT Senate and then House.  It is currently           awaiting the Governor's signature. 

         HB 6662


Why is this important?  

Declaring racism to be a public health crisis or emergency offers a clear path to intentionally acknowledging and addressing disparities and inequities. Adopting a resolution can catalyze and authorize data analysis, policy analysis to prevent unintentional injustices, and implementation of policies and actions to dismantle or course-correct problematic systems. In other words, this is one way to hold ourselves and our local and state governments accountable for addressing racism.

Why should Ellington take this action?

Making a public declaration that racism is a public health crisis is the first step in intentionally embedding health equity in policymaking. This is a way to hold our elected leaders accountable for the cross-sector approaches necessary to move towards equity.

How is racism a public health emergency?

As a result of the trauma inflicted by racism and the purposeful disinvestment in their social and economic well-being, people of color live with disproportionately higher cortisol levels, higher rates of chronic stress, higher rates chronic disease, lower infant birth rates, higher rates of COVID-19 infection and death and pay the ultimate price with their lives.

How are racism and health tied?

When health experts talk about racism as a public health issue, they are referring to the ways that racism affects where people live, where they go to school, the quality of the air they breathe, their income and wealth, their access to food and healthcare and more. "How does that relate to public health? Because you are where you live," Jeffrey Sánchez, a public health advocate and former Massachusetts state representative, told CNN.

Racism helps explain why Black and brown patients experience worse health outcomes than their White counterparts in nearly every category, even as they move up the socioeconomic ladder. Black women are nearly four times as likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than White women. Black men are more than twice as likely to be killed by police as White men. Black people are more likely than White people to experience high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. And they're more likely to die at early ages of all causes. Racism has been killing people for a long time.

The Covid-19 pandemic perfectly encapsulates how racism manifests in public health. Black and Latino Americans who get infected are more likely to have pre-existing conditions that increase their risk of severe illness, according to a report from Johns Hopkins. Because they are more likely to be uninsured, they tend to put off seeking treatment and are sicker when they do receive care. On top of that, they tend to receive less aggressive treatment than White Americans, the report states. At home, crowded housing conditions make it harder for Black and Latino Americans to practice physical distancing, and many of them work in essential jobs that can't be performed remotely. Experiencing racism may harm cognitive health, study finds "Racism has been killing people for a long time, either through benign neglect, aggressive policing, gentrification, or through a healthcare system that doesn't know how to take care of people of color," Sánchez said.

Condensed from Health Equity Solutions