Open letter: Racism is a persistent and critical public health issue

Like so many others in Colorado, the Department of Public Health and Environment is deeply saddened and appalled by the loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and untold others. Our hearts go out to the grieving nation, and we hope in the aftermath of these tragedies that accountability and justice will prevail.

As we mourn these recent deaths, we also acknowledge the painful reality that these incidents did not happen in isolation. They are the result of the deeply-rooted systemic and institutional racism that has dehumanized and recklessly taken the lives of people of color for generations. Occurrences of police violence are just symptoms of these structural inequities¹.

Structural inequities are intertwined with our nation’s history, and they have showed up in a variety of ways. People of color have long had to endure the legacy of housing discrimination, disinvestment in their communities, more exposure to environmental toxins, and lack of economic opportunities. These are just some of the structural inequities that have led to poorer health outcomes -- including a higher incidence of chronic diseases -- for people of color²

The current COVID-19 pandemic has made these structural inequities all the more obvious. Members of these communities are more likely to contract and die from the disease than their white counterparts due to a higher frequency of underlying health conditions and higher risk of exposure3.

Systemic, persistent racism is a public health issue. When the color of your skin correlates with your well-being and longevity, that is a public health injustice that must be addressed.

We at CDPHE are determined to be part of the solution. As with other issues, we must work together if we are to recover. It cannot be left solely to people of color to address these systemic issues. Those who have benefitted from years of systemic inequities and who may not be directly impacted by racism must do their part as well. It starts when we recognize that racism is embedded in our systems and has negative impacts on everyone. It ends when we have the courage to enact real change. 

Being silent and doing nothing is no longer acceptable. We affirm that racism is a serious public health issue, we know that the health and lives of people of color are at stake, and, most important, we are ready to take action. That is how we will make good on the promise of a healthy, equitable Colorado for all.


¹Addressing Law Enforcement Violence as a Public Health Issue. (2018, November 13). https://www.apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/public-health-policy-statements/policy-database/2019/01/29/law-enforcement-violence?mc_cid=6f33e83709&mc_eid=9b57d939c5

²Bailey, Z. D., et al (2017). Structural racism and health inequities in the USA: evidence and interventions. The Lancet. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)30569-X/fulltext

3Kijakazi, K. COVID-19 Racial Health Disparities Highlight Why We Need to Address Structural Racism. (2020, April 10). https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/covid-19-racial-health-disparities-highlight-why-we-need-address-structural-racism