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Opinion: Racism is a public health crisis; here’s why
Hartford Courant - 3/21/2021
It has been almost a full year since Connecticut’s first “stay-at-home” order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and over six months since our state and nation saw the most recent upswell of public protest in response to anti-Black racism.
Above and beyond the disproportionate rates of infection and death experienced by Blacks and Latinos, these populations have also faced greater likelihood of unemployment and loss of insurance, housing and food insecurity, lower vaccination rates, and a host of other social factors compounding existing inequities in the state — all of which are consequences of systemic racism.
We heard the Connecticut residents who spoke out against injustice. We heard the calls of residents who followed Health Equity Solutions’ call to action and urged their towns to declare racism a public health crisis. We commit to taking the important step of acknowledging the public health crisis caused by racism and enacting policy that will address its harms and create structures for anti-racist policymaking.
To date, 20 Connecticut municipalities and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation have declared racism a public health crisis, reflecting a collective will at the local level to acknowledge the role racism plays in creating structural disadvantages impacting the health of people of color. Several towns have taken further steps to bring these declarations to action. For example, New Haven created a Racism as a Public Health Issue Working Group to provide anti-racist policy recommendations and guidance to the city’s Board of Alders. We now must amplify this work at the state level.
Acknowledging the racism ingrained in our systems is ground zero, and this statement must be accompanied by tangible measures to promote equity. How can we hold our state accountable for intentionally dismantling racism?
First, we will adopt a “health equity in all policies” approach to create an infrastructure for change. This approach builds health equity into the foundation of policymaking in the executive branch to move beyond fragmented actions that address symptoms of systemic racism and to focus on collaborative initiatives that address the social and economic factors contributing to inequities in health and opportunity. States like California and Washington have already embedded organizational structures within their executive branch to lead this approach, providing resources to decision-makers and holding stakeholders accountable for addressing health equity in policies and practices.
In the near term, this approach will help to ensure equity in COVID-19 response and relief efforts. In the medium and long term, a Health Equity in All Policies Council will create and oversee the implementation of a strategic plan to provide sustained resources and institutional accountability for rooting out systemic racism and driving equity.
Second, the state will dedicate staff to conducing racial and ethnic impact assessments for the Connecticut General Assembly so that any proposed bill can be evaluated for its potential impact on disparities and inequities. In 2018, Connecticut enacted a law permitting any state legislator to request the preparation of a racial and ethnic impact statement. Unfortunately, this bill did not allocate resources for this purpose. We will address that omission and make these statements a feasible and regular process. By taking a systematic and coordinated approach, we can move health equity from the margins into the center of policymaking.
Finally, state agencies will compile reports using existing data on disparities throughout our systems to inform the work of the Health Equity in All Policies Council. Racism is costly. It should be no surprise that these steps to dismantle racism will require moderate investment. We must act swiftly on behalf of Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color in Connecticut or continue to pay the costs of our state’s wide inequities. The opportunity to advance equity is ripe in 2021. This is our plan.
Brandon McGee is a Democratic state representative representing parts of Hartford and Windsor.
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