Voices’ Blog

Virginia Must Declare Racism as a Public Health Crisis

Posted:  -  By: Chlo'e Edwards

Racism is a driving determinant that impacts the social determinant of our personal and public health, family economic security, housing, food security, and education. Whether racism is explicit or implicit, it operates at the individual, community, and systemic level. As communities raise their voices to express horror and grief at the inadvertent impacts of cultural, racial, and historical trauma, Virginia and the nation must respond to address the injustices that racism perpetuates through action to ensure equitable opportunities for all. Virginia must declare racism as a public health crisis.

Last year, Virginia acknowledged the 400th year anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans to Virginia. The Commonwealth was the second leading state for the importation of enslaved Africans and the leading state for the domestic slave trade. Richmond, Va. served as the epicenter of that trade in the 1850s with its biggest revenue being slaves. This served as the catalyst of intergenerational trauma and post-traumatic slave syndrome. While trauma was introduced to the genetics of Black and brown communities, laws and policies – including Jim Crow, slave codes, and vagrancy laws – reinforced, oppressed, and expanded the legacy of trauma in communities of color. This has not been repaired or reconciled, and as a result, Virginia must declare racism as a public health crisis.

Today, activists continue to demand justice for Elijah McClain, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Marcus-David Peters, and George Floyd, amongst others, in recognition of an underlying condition undiagnosed 400 years ago., The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported, “Our models predict that about 1 in 1,000 Black men and boys will be killed over their life course.” This is 2.5 times higher than that of a white man. Virginia must declare racism as a public health crisis.

Children and youth depend upon the decisions of the legislature to act on their ability to improve lives. Inaction deeply widens the income, wealth, and opportunity gaps between communities. Systemic racism continues to perpetuate itself through biases in laws and the way in which our systems are unsuccessful in meeting the needs of the community to safely exist as a person gain access health in all forms, and have economic security.

The pandemic as a trauma and racism as a trauma present two dual disparities.

  • On September 8, 2020, U.S. Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07), Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced House Resolution 8178 to declare racism as a public health crisis at the federal level.
  • On August 25, 2020, Virginia Delegate Lashresce Aird (HD-63) introduced House Resolution 570 to recognize racism as a public health crisis in Virginia.

The Commonwealth is poised to reconcile, repair, correct and respond to correct its past history. In response, Virginia must support the resolution to declare racism as a public health crisis.

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