Racism is a Public Health Issue: a Statement from the UK College of Public Health
June 09, 2020
The following message was distributed to UK College of Public Health students, faculty, staff, and alumni on June 1, 2020:
This weekend saw multiple demonstrations and protests across the U.S. and around the world as people reacted to a series of tragic events. The pain experienced by the loved ones of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others is unfathomable. The UK College of Public Health stands in solidarity with these families, as well as those protesting these gross injustices. These are not the first incidents of people of color dying at the hands of law enforcement, and undoubtedly will not be the last.
Let us be clear—violence against people of color is a public health issue. Racism and the ideology of white supremacy grow in the shadows when “nice” people feel it is “impolite” to discuss or even acknowledge race. But as public health professionals we cannot afford to be “colorblind.” Rather, we must take the lead in investigating, understanding, and ending race-based and racist violence. We know that people of color are more likely to suffer from health disparities caused by systemic lack of access to health care, poverty, unsafe water and air, stress, and trauma. Most recently, the Black community has been disproportionately devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet as horrific as the toll of COVID-19 has been, the epidemic of violence against Black people in our country poses an even greater threat. In particular, violence committed by law enforcement results in trauma that ripples through Black communities causing long-term, multi-generational devastation. As public health scholars we have a responsibility to document and study the health impact of law enforcement contact, violence, and injuries on minority communities in order to produce evidence-based interventions to eliminate race-based violence and trauma.
While we use our tools of research, education, and advocacy, we must also call out those who choose to look the other way when they see injustice at work—whether they be friends, colleagues, classmates, superiors, or the justice system. It is not enough to be “not racist.” Each of us must practice anti-racism in our campus community and beyond.
Today we had the opportunity to speak with some of our community members who are people of color, and our takeaway is summed up by the words of one of our faculty members who said “it is exhausting to be a person of color in America. People of color are a key part of our community at the University of Kentucky and yet we feel as though we are outsiders.” A staff colleague adds, “we are not only experiencing an invisible enemy (coronavirus) but racism has reared its ugly head….Everyone, including people of color, must be able to trust and look to those who should have their best interest at heart, whether it is in the medical profession or law enforcement. Our hope for righting the past (and current) injustices is to work with and within the system to root out those that blatantly use their badges as a license to kill.”
To our Black community members: We hear you. You are weary, and rightfully so. It’s time for the rest of us to prove our ally-ship. We urge all members of our community, especially white people who have not lived the experience of our friends and colleagues of color, to take the time to educate yourself on the issues at hand, to understand the history of Black, Latino, and other minority communities being targeted by state-sanctioned violence, and to use whatever platform you may have to actively speak up when you see people of color being targeted, threatened, or even assaulted.
Today we promise that our College will always walk alongside those have been marginalized, targeted, and victimized by violence, as we work together in pursuit of a healthier, more just world.
Signed on behalf of the UK College of Public Health by:
Dean Donna K. Arnett
and the following members of the College Diversity Committee
Dr. Joseph Benitez , Assistant Professor of Health Management and Policy
Ms. Jillian Faith , Senior Alumni Coordinator
Dr. Rafael E. Pérez-Figuero , Assistant Professor of Health, Behavior & Society
Ms. Marla Spires , Chief of Staff
A few resources for further reading:
So You Want to Talk About Race? by Ijeoma Oluo
The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race, 20th Anniversary Edition by Beverly Daniel Tatum (Summer 2020 selection for UK’s Inclusive Excellence Book Club )