As our community continues to reel from the killings of George Floyd and Daunte Wright, another crisis is making headlines. Just last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared racism a “serious public health threat.” Referring to the disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths in Black communities, the CDC blamed structural racism for such adverse health outcomes. Of course, the pandemic didn’t create these disproportionate rates of disease and premature death; it merely shone a light on them.
For decades, American racism has constructed countless barriers that determine where people of color live, work, and play. Housing discrimination, which has kept Black families out of more desirable neighborhoods, has profoundly impacted health outcomes. The 1930’s racist practice of redlining (deeming Black neighborhoods “hazardous” by circling them in red on city maps) kept housing segregation in place and stunted African Americans’ opportunities to accumulate and pass on generational wealth.
While redlining is now illegal, many of these same communities still struggle in poverty. Most historically redlined neighborhoods remain low-income and lack the amenities of wealthier areas, such as access to green spaces, walkable paths, and healthy foods. The concentrated poverty in redlined areas deters grocery stores from entering these neighborhoods, creating food deserts that leave many Black families without fresh fruits and vegetables.
Culturally sensitive, quality health care also remains elusive in many Black areas. Practitioner understanding of the many consequences of redlining is often missing. For example, redlined neighborhoods have higher infant mortality rates, and up to 40 percent of babies born in these areas are premature. When looking at a map of Minneapolis neighborhoods, infant mortality rates match up almost precisely with these communities. Without this knowledge, medical professionals can lack empathy for a patient’s individual experiences and miss essential pieces of the puzzle.
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Public Health Threat