2019

A ‘Direct Threat to Health Equity’


A new book co-edited by the director of FSPH’s Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice & Health brings racism to the forefront as a public health problem requiring immediate attention.

Dr. Chandra Ford

RESEARCHERS HAVE LONG DOCUMENTED HEALTH DISPARITIES — defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or opportunities to achieve optimal health” — that negatively affect racial and ethnic minority populations. Much less attention has been paid to the role of racism in fueling these disparities.

In “Racism: Science & Tools for the Public Health Professional,” a new book co-edited by Chandra Ford, associate professor of community health sciences and founding director of FSPH’s Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice & Health, academicians, students, and community organizers explain how experiencing racism can harm a person’s health, and how people who work in the field of public health should address the problem. The book includes contributions from Gilbert C. Gee, FSPH professor of community health sciences; four Fielding School doctoral students (Adrian M. Bacong, Natalie Bradford, Anna Hing, and Rebekah Israel Cross); and four alumni (Héctor E. Alcalá, MPH ’11, PhD ’15; Brittany N. Morey, MPH ’11, PhD ’17; Goleen Samari, MPH ’10, PhD ’15; and Mienah Z. Sharif, MPH ’09, PhD ’16).

Ford notes that the peer-reviewed research literature on racism’s health impact has grown exponentially in recent years. The ways in which these health effects are felt vary. One of the most direct is the toll of chronic stress stemming from the mistreatment, which can compromise both mental and physical health. “Much of the media focus is on overt forms of racism, but the research is very clear that what really wears the body down over time and contributes to many health disparities is exposure to everyday forms of racism, such as being treated with less respect, being followed while shopping, and constantly having to wonder whether an interaction was racially motivated,” Ford says.

People don’t experience high rates of poor health because of how they look, but because of the unfair treatment they receive based on how they look.


Chandra Ford

Ford points to other ways in which racism leads to health disparities, from the disproportionately higher exposures to environmental hazards in racial and ethnic minority communities to discrimination in housing and employment — which, among other things, affects health insurance and access to care. “Race isn’t fundamentally a biological attribute,” Ford says. “People don’t experience high rates of poor health because of how they look, but because of the unfair treatment they receive based on how they look.”

In the book, authors offer examples of how public health workers can confront racism, including naming it explicitly as a public health threat, recognizing their own biases, building community capacity in the course of research and interventions, collecting data on the lived experiences of populations exposed to various forms of racism, and prioritizing equity in assessments of health impacts.

“For many years, we have heard that the problem is socioeconomic, or that by naming racism we were actually contributing to the problem,” Ford says. “The research is now clear that racism is a public health issue. Public health professionals need to remove their blinders and tackle this head-on as the direct threat to health equity that it is.”

Faculty Referenced by this Article

Dr. Chandra Ford
Chandra Ford
Community Health Sciences
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Dr. Gilbert Gee
Gilbert C. Gee
Community Health Sciences
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Dr. Michael Prelip
Michael Prelip
Community Health Sciences
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David Eisenman
David Eisenman
Community Health Sciences
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Kimberley Shoaf
Community Health Sciences
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Kimberly Gregory
Kimberly Gregory
Community Health Sciences
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Marjorie Kagawa-Singer
Marjorie Kagawa-Singer
Community Health Sciences
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halbert, ronald
Ronald Halbert
Community Health Sciences
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Dr. Anne Pebley
Anne Pebley
Community Health Sciences
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Dr. Elizabeth D'Amico
Elizabeth D’Amico
Community Health Sciences
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Dana Hunnes
Dana Hunnes
Community Health Sciences
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glik, deborah
Deborah Glik
Community Health Sciences
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Dr. Donald Morisky
Donald E. Morisky
Community Health Sciences
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Sheba George
Community Health Sciences
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Sean Darling-Hammond
Sean Darling-Hammond
Biostatistics Community Health Sciences
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Robert Kim-Farley
Robert J. Kim-Farley

Robert J. Kim-Farley, MD, MPH, is a Professor-in-Residence with joint appointments in the Departments of Epidemiology and Community Health Sciences

Community Health Sciences Epidemiology
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Cathy Lang
Cathy Lang

Assistant Dean for Research & Adjunct Associate Professor of Community Health Sciences

Community Health Sciences
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Paula Tavrow
Paula Tavrow
Community Health Sciences
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Ondine S. von Ehrenstein
Community Health Sciences Epidemiology
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Dr. Elizabeth Yzquierdo
Elizabeth Yzquierdo
Community Health Sciences
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Dr. Judith M. Siegel
Judith M. Siegel
Community Health Sciences
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Dawn Upchurch
Community Health Sciences
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Ilan H. Meyer
Ilan H. Meyer
Community Health Sciences
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Natalie Muth
Community Health Sciences
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Wendelin Slusser
Community Health Sciences
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Dr. Michael Goldstein
Michael Goldstein
Community Health Sciences
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Dr. May Sudhinaraset
May Sudhinaraset
Community Health Sciences
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Dr. Samuel Stratton
Samuel Stratton
Community Health Sciences
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Charlotte Neumann
Charlotte G. Neumann
Community Health Sciences
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Dr. Hiram Beltrán-Sánchez
Hiram Beltrán-Sánchez
Community Health Sciences
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James Macinko
James Macinko

Professor of Community Health Sciences & Health Policy and Management, and Associate Dean for Research

Community Health Sciences Health Policy and Management
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Dr. Dana Rose Garfin
Dana Rose Garfin
Community Health Sciences
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Dr. Shira Shafir
Shira Shafir
Community Health Sciences Epidemiology
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Bo-Kyung Elizabeth Kim headshot.png
Bo-Kyung Elizabeth Kim
Community Health Sciences
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Philip Massey headshot
Philip Massey
Community Health Sciences
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Jennifer A. Wagman
Jennifer A. Wagman
Community Health Sciences
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Courtney Thomas Tobin headshot.png
Courtney S. Thomas Tobin
Community Health Sciences
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Dr. Michael Rodriguez
Michael Rodriguez
Community Health Sciences
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Dr. Jessica Gipson
Jessica Gipson
Community Health Sciences
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Sarah Blenner
Sarah Blenner

Director of Field Studies and Applied Professional Training

Community Health Sciences
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Diana Bonta
Diana Bonta
Community Health Sciences
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Dr. Randall Kuhn
Randall Kuhn
Community Health Sciences
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Dr. Alina Dorian
Alina Dorian
Community Health Sciences
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May Wang headshot
May C. Wang
Community Health Sciences
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Dena Herman
Dena Herman
Community Health Sciences
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Valentine M. Villa
Community Health Sciences
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Virginia C. Li
Virginia C. Li
Community Health Sciences
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