As posted by Jessica Masulli Reyes, The News Journal
Public meeting to address cost of racism, following a December report that found ‘rampant’ bias in state government
When the NAACP and faith leaders in Delaware held hearings last year to investigate workplace racism in government, those involved saw how racism negatively impacts every aspect of life, especially health.
“As we traveled from county to county and sat there listening to people providing testimonials about discriminatory practices and racism in the workplace, our hearing officers asked the question, ‘How have you been impacted?’ ” said Alicia Clark, a spokeswoman for the organizers. “It was staggering and alarming. We heard over and over about high blood pressure, depression, heart attacks and mental illness.”
From those hearings spawned a desire for more discussion about the intersection of racism and health.
That discussion came Thursday evening when Dr. Camara P. Jones, president of the American Public Health Association, spoke at Theatre N in Wilmington.
For nearly two hours, Jones interacted with an audience and three other panelists to help the public understand how health outcomes are impacted by racism, not just at the level of medical care but in prevention and environmental factors.
One of the panelists, Marlene Saunders, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers Delaware Chapter, said racism has physical ramifications.
“Racism and discrimination do hurt,” she said. “We have clear studies that show that racism has physical ramifications including high blood pressure and other cardio vascular diseases. And, what the state doesn’t understand with what [state] employees are going through is that there are physical ramifications of this.”
Jones attributed health disparities to differences in the quality of care people receive in the health system; differences in access to health care; and differences in the life experiences, opportunities and stress of people.
Those differences in experiences can often be attributed to racism, which is a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks, she said.
“Racism operates on the institutionalized level – that is, the system. It operates in what I call personal-mediated racism – that is, the prejudice or discrimination – and then the internalized level.”
Jones’ talk will be followed by a series of roundtables for lawmakers, nonprofit and faith leaders, educators, health care workers and members of the chamber of commerce on Friday. Those roundtables are invitation only.
“We are attempting with the race and health series to broaden the table and move our leadership here in the state to examine the exponential impact this is having on all of us,” Clark said.
Clark said the roundtables Friday will look at the economic, human and financial cost associated with an environment of racism in the state. For example, racism in a workplace can lead to under utilization of talent and loss of productivity, she said.
The public meeting and roundtables were part of a widespread effort by the Committee on Racism in State Government.
The News Journal, in a series of stories last June, detailed the efforts of the committee to gather testimony at nine closed-door hearings statewide from workers who encountered racist acts in their jobs.
About 100 workers from various agencies testified at the hearings, and 50 provided testimony in private, the committee said.
The committee then presented the governor in December with a 23-page report outlining what they called “rampant” bias in state government. Officials for the committee later said the Department of Labor had the most serious problems.
Gov. Jack Markell met with committee members in January, and a week later Delaware Labor Secretary John McMahon announced he was retiring. Markell nominated Patrice Gilliam-Johnson, a human resources expert and the daughter of late civil rights leader Jim Gilliam Sr., as his replacement.
In a July email to state employees, the governor expressed support for the committee’s inquiry and said, “Management will be held accountable for adhering to and promoting our zero-tolerance policy.”
The report issued in December recommended the state fire supervisors who retaliate against state workers who report bias, as well as the creation of a task force to develop a plan for addressing racism, among other suggestions.