In a recently published article, “Racism Is a Public Health Crisis: Social Workers Leading the Charge,” YWCA Advocacy Committee Co-Chair Tara Wallace, MSW, LSCSW, draws connections between racism, public health, and the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. Social workers were uniquely positioned as professionals who were not only frontline workers during the pandemic, but who also have experience addressing the pre- and post-pandemic inequities faced by communities of color.
However, all groups and individuals committed to eliminating racism can benefit from the connections drawn in Wallace’s article.
Racism Is a Public Health Crisis
In 2021, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared that racism is a threat to our public health. Centuries of racism in the U.S. have entrenched racist policies in housing, income, healthcare, education, public safety, transportation, and food access that prevent people of color from being healthy – Kansas and Topeka/Shawnee County included. These everyday and cumulative stressors, as Wallace explains, are called the allostatic load. People of color carry much heavier allostatic loads because of the centuries-old policies that negatively affect their physical and mental health more than white people.
What are some of the ways that institutions and policies lead to poor public health outcomes in communities of color?
- Limited access to adequate healthcare and healthy food.
- Less research and knowledge of race-specific health conditions, as well as a lack of cultural sensitivity in the healthcare field.
- This results in higher rates of diabetes, breast cancer, and heart diseases in people of color.
- Added daily stressors (the allostatic load) related to inadequate public transportation, violence in the community, and lack of access to affordable childcare, affordable housing, and jobs that provide a living wage.
COVID-19 and Racism
When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, these inequities were highlighted in ways that public health officials could no longer ignore. COVID hospitalizations and death rates were higher among people of color. In addition, COVID deaths were more likely to be misrepresented or underreported in communities of color, deepening the mistrust of healthcare among surviving family members because they encountered more obstacles to receiving resources than their white counterparts.
As the federal government is set to end the COVD-19 emergency in a few months, public health and racial justice organizations must continue advocating for institutional and policy changes that close gaps in healthcare, housing, transportation, and other systems affecting overall health and mental health in our communities.
YWCA Northeast Kansas is on a mission to advance equity, safety, and racial justice for women and girls of color across justice, education, health, and other systems with documented racial disparities by recognizing racism as a public health crisis in our community. We will continue to work with the Topeka Shawnee County Health Department’s REIAG committee to advance this initiative at the City and County government level. Learn more about our Legislative Priorities and join the movement.