Ayanna Pressley Says Racism Is A Public Health Problem That’s Killing People

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2021/04/12/ayanna-pressley-says-racism-is-a-public-health-problem-thats-killing-people/

Is systemic racism killing people in the United States of America?

U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Dorchester) says it is.

Pressley, who represents the majority-minority Seventh Congressional District in Massachusetts, joined the GBH television program Basic Black last week to speak about what she sees as racial inequities that result in negative health outcomes and deaths in minority communities — especially amid the coronavirus pandemic. She also said that racism is a public health crisis and policies that uphold systemic racism are violence.

“Well I think it’s acknowledgement of the impacts of systemic and structural racism and certainly that has been across the board, but it has been more laid bare and pronounced and exacerbated during this global pandemic,” Pressley said. “I represent the Massachusetts 7th which is a vibrant, dynamic district and one of the unequal in the country, and a district that was the hardest hit by coronavirus in the Commonwealth because we have communities like Chelsea, Roxbury, Everett, Randolph. So these are communities that live daily with the comorbidities of structural and systemic racism. 

“Unequal access to health care, transportation deserts, food apartheid systems, disproportionately bearing the brunt of environmental injustices resulting in the highest rates of asthma, so we knew anecdotally already how this pandemic would play out and what communities would be hardest hit,” she added. “So with this declaration that racism is a public health crisis, what I hope will happen is that will show up in the investments we make in our budgets and also in the policies that we advance.”

This came in response to a question from host Callie Crossley on how the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s calling racism “a serious public health threat” will impact public policy moving forward.

It’s a statement that CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky made last week.

“What we know is this:  racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans,” Walensky said in a press release. “As a result, it affects the health of our entire nation. Racism is not just the discrimination against one group based on the color of their skin or their race or ethnicity, but the structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where their children play, and where they worship and gather in community. These social determinants of health have life-long negative effects on the mental and physical health of individuals in communities of color.”

Pressley also noted during the interview that she has sponsored a bill along with U.S. Representative Barbara Lee (D-California) and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Cambridge) called the “Anti-Racism in Public Health Act.” The bill, if passed, would create a “Center on Anti-Racism in Health” at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The center would declare racism as a national public health crisis and create a Law Enforcement Violence Prevention Program at the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

A February 2021 press release from Pressley explains what the “Center on Anti-Racism in Health” would focus on:

  • Conducting research, collecting data, awarding grants, and providing leadership and coordination on the science and practice of anti-racism in the provision of health care, the public health impacts of systemic racism, and the effectiveness of interventions to address these impacts.

  • Creating at least three regional centers of excellence in anti-racism.

  • Educating the public on the public health impacts of structural racism and anti-racist public health interventions.

  • Consulting with other Centers at the CDC to ensure that scientific and programmatic activities initiated by the agency consider structural racism in their designs, conceptualizations, and executions.

Additionally, during her interview with Basic Black, Pressley reiterated her belief that economic and health differences in white and nonwhite communities are the result of racism.

 “None of these disparate health outcomes or poor social conditions, inequities, and disparities are naturally occurring, Callie,” Pressley said. “They have been legislated. They have been created by an under-resourcing divestment of community and also what I would characterize as policy violence.”


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