‘An Anti-Racist Public Health Agenda’: NYC Board Votes To Declare Racism A Public Health Crisis

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This week, the Board of Health for New York City declared racism a public health crisis, committed to looking into whatever “structural racism” may exist in the NYC health system, and recommended that the NYC Health Department “perform an anti-racism” review.

The board’s resolution, which passed on Monday, alleged that “there is a long history of structural racism impacting services and care across all institutions within our society.”

Aside from taking aim at the city’s health system for perpetuating alleged inequity, the resolution also called out other aspects of society, like law enforcement, housing, and education for contributing to “avoidable and unjust health outcomes.”

It also declared that “settler colonialism, indigenous genocide, and enslavement of Africans are part of the history of our nation.”

To fix the perceived inequities, the Public Health Board wrote that “race explicit strategies” were necessary to combat a “race explicit system.”

One of the recommendations given by the board was to request “that the NYC Health Department research, clarify, and acknowledge examples of its historic role in divesting and underinvesting in critical community-led health programs, and participate in a truth and reconciliation process with communities harmed by these actions when possible.”

The board also hopes that a Data for Equity internal group will be created “to ensure the Health Department apply an intersectional, anti-racism equity lens to public health data and provide annual guidance to other NYC Mayoral agencies on best practices…”

Another recommendation was that an “anti-racism review of the NYC Health Code” be conducted in coordination with the NYC Health Department and “relevant organizations.”

“To build a healthier New York City, we must confront racism as a public health crisis,” NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Dave A. Chokshi said, praising the move by the board. “The COVID-19 pandemic magnified inequities, leading to suffering disproportionately borne by communities of color in our City and across our nation. But these inequities are not inevitable.”

The move was also applauded by the city health department’s Chief Equity Officer.

“We’ve seen for years the negative impact racism has in our public health data and today, we’re recommitting ourselves to building a more equitable City,” said Torian Easterling. “I thank the Board of Health for sharing our commitment to dismantling systemic racism.”

New York State Senator Brad Hoylman was pleased with what he called the board’s efforts to “promote an anti-racist public health agenda.”

“The combined effect of institutional racism and the COVID-19 pandemic on Black and Brown New Yorkers represent an urgent call to action which we can no longer ignore as a government or society,” he said.

The American Medical Association said that racism was “a threat to public health” in November of 2020.

“As physicians and leaders in medicine, we are committed to optimal health for all, and are working to ensure all people and communities reach their full health potential,” said AMA Board Member Willarda V. Edward. “Declaring racism as an urgent public health threat is a step in the right direction toward advancing equity in medicine and public health, while creating pathways for truth, healing, and reconciliation.”

The same day that the Public Health Board declared racism a public health crisis, the city’s Public Design Commission also voted unanimously to remove a nearly 200-year-old statue of Thomas Jefferson from City Hall, largely over concerns that the monument was insensitive because Jefferson owned slaves.

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