On Friday, June 26, 2020, the Buncombe County Health and Human Services (BCHHS) Board unanimously passed a proclamation declaring racism a public health crisis and outlining action steps that the board will take to advance racial equity and justice in our county.
This action by local health leadership comes after consideration of persistent and pervasive inequities in health outcomes in Buncombe County and advocacy from many community partners, including those represented on Buncombe County’s Community Health Improvement Process (CHIP) Advisory Council.
Racism takes on many forms and manifestations, including individual attitudes, interpersonal behaviors, institutional rules, and systemic structures. The new proclamation and associated action steps focus explicitly on addressing institutional and structural racism: the interconnected ways societies foster racial discrimination in housing, education, employment, earnings, benefits, credit, media, health care, and criminal justice that lead to inequities in education, employment, justice, and health opportunities, conditions, and outcomes.
Frank Castelblanco, Chair of the HHS Board, reflects on this action by saying, “Structural racism is one of the most pressing public health issues here in Buncombe County and across the nation, and it exacerbates every other public health issue. This widespread system of oppression is built through policies and practices that have created inequities in health, education, housing, employment, criminal justice and our other public institutions. In order to create a truly equitable community, we must dismantle these racist systems as intentionally as they were built and even more so. The Buncombe County Health and Human Services Board, through a unanimous vote, is committed to doing the intentional and sustained work to address these unacceptable health gaps in our community.”
Communities across the country are coming together in the call to end racial injustice in all systems, emerging as a movement that demands meaningful action to address the experiences of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). COVID-19 has amplified existing health inequities, exacerbating unjust and avoidable disparities in health conditions, opportunities and outcomes between community members and groups because of the cumulative stressors, trauma, and unequal treatment caused by historical and present-day racism.
Stoney Blevins, BCHHS Director says, “We appreciate the leadership of the Buncombe County Health and Human Services board in recognizing the need to address systemic racism to improve health and well-being in Buncombe County. Naming this as a public health crisis helps our agency and community develop meaningful actions to repair the damage that racism causes and will be an important step towards improving health outcomes for people of color.”