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Anti-Black Racism impacts health and as healthcare organizations we must act now

Anti-Black racism is a public health crisis that demands action now

Over the past week – and the weeks, months and years before this – we at the Alliance for Healthier Communities have seen the impact of historical and present-day racism, inequity, violence and inaction on our member organizations and the communities they serve.

Anti-Black racism is a public health crisis that manifests in many different forms, including police violence in Ontario and around the world. Black people are routinely denied access to the healthcare services that are a basic human right. Black children are given lower levels of pain management as white children. Black women receive cervical cancer screening at lower rates than any other population group. People suffering from sickle cell anemia are treated as drug seekers. People living with mental health conditions are turned away or offered culturally unsafe healthcare, leading to increased rates of suicide and suffering.

At the same time, Black communities bear the disproportionate burdens of racism and discrimination in housing and labour markets, placing them at higher risk of both communicable diseases like COVID-19 (at work as personal support workers and other essential service workers, and at home in close or unsafe living conditions), and chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension and mental health conditions caused by inequitable living conditions and the daily stresses of living under the macro and micro conditions of structural, systemic and individual racism. In the life and death of Black Personal Support Worker Leonard Rodriques, who died from COVID-19 after being repeatedly turned away from personal protective equipment and healthcare, we witness one example of the real-time collision of the determinants of health and healthcare services for Black people in this province.

The strengths of Black communities – amongst other things, in mutual support, organizing, and creating and sustaining community-led health and social care – are what has seen them through crisis after crisis. These strengths and the solidarity of immense, intersectional leadership are being shown in the current moment, too. Black-led community health centres within the Alliance are providing visionary, steadfast and culturally safe healthcare and systems leadership at community, provincial and national levels.

Racism, inequity and dehumanization are deeply embedded in our social structures, daily lives, neighbourhoods and healthcare organizations. This affects every single person in our province and the world – unequal societies have worse health outcomes for all people than more equal ones. The work of confronting anti-Black racism is the work of advancing health and wellbeing for all. To be allies, we continue to have major work to do to remove the barriers that structures, systems and our own actions put in the way of these strengths.

At the Alliance for Healthier Communities, we are in the midst of updating our Health Equity Charter to ensure it sets out clear guidance and principles to which we will be held accountable, including a strong stand against white supremacy and anti-Black racism. Our work in progress includes working to ensure we are appropriately devoting staff time and resources to the work of Black Health and the support of Black Health leadership in comprehensive primary health care organizations throughout Ontario; ensuring our Board of Directors includes intersectional health equity leadership including directors from Ontario’s Black communities; working to support all our members to appropriately collect and use race-based and sociodemographic data; and advocating for policies and practices that hold our governments and health systems accountable for health equity.

This is not enough. As an organization and as a network of organizations committed to anti-racism and anti-oppression, we at the Alliance must continue to search ourselves, as individuals and organizations, to identify, name and directly confront our own silence and inaction. In solidarity with Black Health leadership across the Alliance, and with Black communities across Ontario, Canada and the world, here is what we commit to today to further walk our talk on anti-racism, health equity and community wellbeing.

We commit to:

  • Supporting anti-racism and anti-oppression training for all member boards and staff at the Alliance and in member organizations.
  • Reviewing all existing projects and initiatives, including human resources policies, Board policies and internal procedures, to ensure an up-to-date, explicit and accountable focus on anti-Black racism
  • Transparency and accountability for our actions that includes mechanisms for regularly reporting our progress and supporting Alliance members to do the same
  • Collaborating with the Black Health Committee to explore opportunities for funding and resourcing the design, implementation, and modifying of new and existing sector-wide initiatives that advance Black health and wellbeing in Ontario
  • Standing with Black communities in their work to advance structural change and using our voice to support their calls to action for a more equitable, just and inclusive Ontario

Signed,

Adrianna Tetley, CEO

Claudia den Boer, Board Chair

Tuesday, June 2, 2020