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    Center on Policy Initiatives

Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis in San Diego County

Last month, CPI’s Executive Director, Dr. Kyra Greene, joined Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, Supervisor Nora Vargas, and community leaders in a press conference to declare racism as a public health crisis in the County of San Diego. Watch the full press conference here.

Read the transcript of Kyra’s statement below, where she highlights the economic impacts of racism: 

Good afternoon. My name is Dr. Kyra Greene. I use she/her pronouns. I am here today as the Executive Director of the Center on Policy Initiatives to support the resolution being brought forward by Supervisors Fletcher and Vargas to Declare Racism a Public Health Crisis in San Diego County.

Being a target of racism is a risk factor for every negative outcome, including health outcomes. And being a racist actor is the result of a diseased mindset. It is the perspective of individuals and groups who reject some of the most basic tenants of human dignity. The principles that hold that we should respect one another and treat one another as we want to be treated. This illness that harms its hosts and its targets, is a public health crisis all over this country. Addressing racism and inequality in San Diego County won’t end it in this country, but we can’t bring about the end of racism and inequality without addressing it in this County. 

Unequal pay and income inequality means that People of Color have less access to health care and healthy and safe housing, leading to higher negative outcomes. In San Diego half of all Black households were paid less than $56,000 and half of all Latinx households were paid less than $61,000, while half of all White households were paid more than $89,000.  

Years of racism and racist policies has created a wealth gap between white families and Black and Latinx families. Wealth leads to financial security, and economic opportunity passed on through generations. Historical inequality and the resulting inequalities of wealth, income and health cause intergenerational poverty. That is why in San Diego County more than 1 in 4 Black children, nearly 1 in 5 Latinx youth, but only 1 in 10 White children are growing up in poverty.

These outcomes are the result of both intentional action by some people and by unintentional action or inaction by the vast majority. 

In terms of intentional racist action, San Diego County has a long history of white supremacist organizing and activity. White supremacists have been able to terrorize people of color and have discouraged other people of color from moving here. 

But people with beliefs about the inferiority of people of color have also been able to move their values into action through their positions of power in government and in the private sector. That is why this region has long denied people of color access to the loans, homes, leadership positions and the good jobs that have long made San Diego one of the best places to live if you are White. We know that these dynamics influence even those who do not see themselves as White supremacists. These dynamics of discrimination seep into how many of us think about who is an ideal tenant or a peaceful and law abiding neighbor. But as much as anything else institutionalized racism and other forms of discrimination shape our workplaces. They shape  who we seek out to employ and to give access to opportunities for advancement.

As a result, San Diego County is a place where people, mostly those who are NOT Black, Indigenous or other People of Color get rich or at least comfortable off of the labor, the risk, and the suffering of working people especially working Black, Indigenous and other People of Color. From the start of this country and to this day, the most dangerous, the least desirable and the lowest paid jobs are usually assigned to people of color. And often, racism is what causes or keeps these jobs dangerous and low paid and therefore undesirable. Workplace racism is why we are seeing higher rates of COVID-19 infection and death among people of color. But, racism and inequality are also the causes of higher rates of heart disease, mental illness and other diseases created by the everyday stress of racist treatment and exclusion. 

The concentration of poverty, inequality and ill-health creates the pressure for People of Color to go to work and to work in public facing jobs in retail, grocery stores, delivery services and delivery of County services even when they are denied access to protective equipment, safe practices or a fair wage. Too often San Diegans of color have to submit to racism and the risk of early death in their workplace conditions or face immediate threats to their ability to pay their bills and to survive. This is why racism, including workplace related racism, is a public health crisis. 

If we want to end racism and inequality we have to respect Black people’s lives, we have to respect the dignity of Indigenous people, we have to protect our Latinx siblings and we have to honor that Asian and Pacific Islander residents are part of the fabric of this community. Our labor and our lives are intertwined and both our labor and our lives matter.

Thank you Supervisors Vargas and Fletcher for this opportunity to speak on and work together on this critical issue.

Written by CPI San Diego

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