Structured Inequity Must Change Or Disadvantaged Groups Will Always Bear The Load, Expert Says

Sep 10, 2020

The Second Annual Minority Health Film Festival kicks off in Milwaukee Thursday through Sept. 24. Fifty films, events and discussions will highlight how relationships, communities and institutions impact the health of marginalized groups.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival is virtual, except for some drive-in events.

Dr. Camara Jones gave the keynote speech for the festival. Jones is a family physician and epidemiologist whose work focuses on naming, measuring, and addressing the impacts of racism on the health and well-being of the nation.

She talks about Black, Indigenous, and other groups of color bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 virus, and how the nation can begin to work toward health equity.

"Black and brown and Indigenous folks are overrepresented among those who are infected and then overrepresented among those who are dying from COVID-19. It's not because we are more susceptible. What we are is, we're more likely to be infected because we're more exposed and less protected," she says. "And then once infected, we're more likely to die because we're more burdened by chronic diseases with less access to health care."

Jones goes on to say that marginalized racial and ethnic groups are more exposed because of working most of the frontline jobs, like bus drivers, grocery store clerks, mail delivery, and meat packing.

"And why are we more likely to be in those frontline jobs? It's because the federal government ... solidified racially segregated communities and then disinvested in those communities," Jones says.

She says that disinvestment creates poor communities. And what happens then? If schools are supported primarily by property taxes, for example, and those schools are in poorly funded communities, that leads to poorly funded schools, which often leads to poor educational outcomes. Then, those students coming out of those institutions are limited to those same types of frontline job prospects.

But what about health care?

"First of all," Jones says, "especially early on in the pandemic, Black folks were showing up at hospitals to be evaluated and sent home to die without even having a temperature taken or a COVID-19 test."

Jones says this is why she came up with three principles for achieving health equity: valuing all individuals and populations equally, recognizing and rectifying historical injustices, and providing resources according to need.

"If we do not change the structured inequity in our society, then every pandemic that comes through — every flood, every hurricane — everything is going to continue to pound on the same people," she says.

Do you have a question about race in Milwaukee that you'd like WUWM's Teran Powell to explore? Submit it below.

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