The police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and countless others this year underscore systemic racism’s detrimental role in our criminal justice system. And consistent with the pattern of long-existing health disparities, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black Americans. And last year, about 76 percent of Black Americans experienced racial discrimination.

Systemic racism has been baked into United States institutions, such as the criminal justice and health care systems, for years. To combat racism within our culture, many leaders are now arguing that to create meaningful change, society must view and address racism as a public health issue. What does the evidence suggest?

How is racism a public health issue?
The American Public Health Association names racism as a driving force behind social determinants of health—including housing, education, employment—and a barrier to attaining health equity. Evidence shows racism is the main determinant of disparities in death and disease between Black and white people. Further, Black people ages 18 to 34 have higher mortality rates for 8 of the 10 leading causes of death. And since 2014, research has shown that the life expectancy for Black Americans is four years shorter than the expectancy for white Americans. Health disparities cut across socioeconomic lines in Black communities, suggesting that even wealthy Black Americans experience worse health outcomes.

Violent victimization associated with racism has negative health consequences for Black people
Victimization can be especially traumatic for Black people because it is commonly associated with racism and related violence. The Center for Victim Research found that Black people are 1.5 to 2 times more likely to be victims of serious violence than white people.

Read the full article about racism as a public health issue by Susan Nembhard and Krista White at Urban Institute.