Harvard Scholars Present Research on How Racism Affects Public Health

A group of scholars affiliated with the Project on Race & Gender in Science & Medicine at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University have produced a webinar series entitled “Epidemics and the Effects on the African American Community from 1792 to the Present.”

Examining pandemics and disease throughout American history, the scholars concluded that the higher rates of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease in African American communities — conditions that put people at higher risk of death from infections with the novel coronavirus — is a societal failure.

In the webinar, David Williams, the Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health at Harvard, stated that “200 Black people die every single day in these United States who would not have died if the health experience of African Americans was equivalent to that of Whites.”

Camara Phyllis Jones, an epidemiologist, family physician, and senior fellow at the Morehouse School of Medicine and the 2019‒2020 Evelyn Green Davis Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, added that “if you asked most White people in this country today, they would be in denial that racism exists and continues to have profound impacts on opportunities and exposures, resources and risks. But COVID-19 and the statistics about Black excess deaths are pulling away that deniability.” Dr. Jones added that “It’s segregation in terms of access to healthy foods, and to green space, and excess exposure to environmental hazards, which is why we have things like more obesity leading to more diabetes and more heart disease and more kidney failure.”

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