The coronavirus pandemic has been the great revealer, laying bare what Black and Brown communities have always known: Racism is a public health crisis that puts their health, their safety, and their lives at risk, every day.
We see it in disparities in access to health insurance coverage and quality healthcare providers, and implicit biases in our healthcare system. We see it in a justice system and an economic system that far too often treat Black lives as expendable. And we see it in all the social determinants of health—education, environmental hazards, housing and job opportunities, to name a few.
It should surprise no one that Black and Native American women are two to four times more likely than white women to suffer severe maternal morbidity or die of pregnancy-related complications. The Black infant mortality rate in the U.S. is higher than in 97 countries worldwide. And on and on it goes.
Those disparities are now being layered atop a deadly pandemic. It is not a coincidence that infection, hospitalization and mortality rates are disproportionately high among Black, Latino, American Indian, and Alaska Native populations. Data shows that 22% of COVID-19 patients are Black, despite Blacks making up just 13% of the population, and 33% of COVID-19 patients are Latino, when they make up just 18% of the population.
The effects of COVID-19 are inseparable from systemic racism, and the first step to solving a problem is recognizing its existence.
Cities and counties in my home state of Ohio have led the charge in declaring racism a public health crisis. And I joined colleagues Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to continue the effort at the federal level.
We introduced a Senate resolution that declares racism a national public health crisis, and acknowledges the systemic barriers that people of color, especially Black Americans, continue to face in our healthcare system.
Of course we know a resolution alone won’t solve the problems created by centuries of racism; systemic racism still exists—and is perpetuated—in so many of our societal institutions. This resolution is an important step toward recognizing the racial disparities in healthcare while also outlining concrete actions that we can take now to help reverse these disparities.
This acknowledgment must be the beginning of the conversation—it’s a commitment to engage with communities that have been silenced for too long, and to work together for long-term change. That’s why when crafting this resolution, we made sure to hear from leaders and residents in Black and Brown communities who have been living with these inequalities and fighting this fight for generations.
Introducing this resolution will never match the hard work being done in communities on the local level. What it can do is lay the foundation for policy that will support the efforts to bring about equity in America.
This summer we lost an American hero and an icon of the Civil Rights movement, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. Throughout his life, John walked across bridge after bridge to fight for justice, to help anyone in need, to listen and to understand. We must carry the torch he has passed us for as long as we can and honor his legacy by continuing the fight to finally tear down the walls of racial inequality in this country once and for all.