Combating Racism Advances Health Equity

Content From: Juliet Bui, Public Health Advisor, Office of Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesPublished: May 24, 20213 min read


Cross-posted from HHS Office on Minority Health

Juliet Bui
Author Juliet Bui

Maybe you’ve seen the videos on social media. A 52-year-old Chinese American woman assaulted in New York City. An 84-year-old Thai American man pushed to the ground so violently in San Francisco that he dies from his injuries. Both incidents in recent weeks are part of an alarming increase of attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in the United States since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

Renowned civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson says that to address racial inequality, we have to confront our history. In the context of health inequities, we should acknowledge that hate, stigma, racism, discrimination, conscious and implicit bias, and microaggressions have played—and continue to play—a role in contributing to poor health and health outcomes for racial and ethnic minority populations, and in exacerbating health disparities.

While the nation battles the COVID-19 pandemic, disturbing reports of attacks, harassment and hate-motivated incidents are forcing AAPI communities to battle racism and bigotry that threaten their physical safety and mental wellbeing.

This is not the first time the AAPI community has experienced racism during a public health crisis. The 2003 SARS outbreak saw a rise in anti-Asian rhetoric and action, driven by similar myths and misdirection of blame toward AAPIs as are being perpetuated now. These are just a few examples of the violence and abuse against racial and ethnic minority and other marginalized groups that have persisted throughout our country’s history. Not only are actions motivated by intolerance inherently wrong, but there is also evidence that suggests that they can affect the health and mental health of individuals and their communities.

On January 26, President Biden issued the Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. The memorandum calls for federal government to combat and prevent racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against AAPIs. The memorandum includes a directive for the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in coordination with the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, to consider issuing best practices for advancing cultural competency, language access and sensitivity toward AAPIs in the context of the federal COVID-19 response. On January 20, the Administration also issued the Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. This executive order calls for a comprehensive federal approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.

Federal activities aligned with the memorandum and executive order will not only address immediate equity needs related to COVID-19 response and recovery efforts, but also will have the great potential to support sustained federal efforts beyond the pandemic to combat interpersonal and structural racism and to advance inclusion for people of all races, national origins, and ethnicities. Of critical importance to the Office of Minority Health (OMH) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, another promising outcome will be the advancement of health equity, as the federal government works to improve cultural competence, improve access to quality health care, and mitigate the adverse effects of racism on health and wellbeing. OMH calls on everyone in the nation to join the federal government in condemning and combating racism—it is the right thing to do as a nation, and for our health.

Read and share more information: