RWJF Health Leaders

Xavier Brown at the Climate Change March in Washington DC.
RWJF Health Leaders

Xavier Brown at the Climate Change March in Washington DC.

Structural Racism and Health

Inequities across our nation have their roots in discrimination.

Our history is filled with policies, from zoning codes to lending rules, specifically established to promote and maintain segregation.

Funding Opportunity

Evidence for Action: Innovative Research to Advance Racial Equity: This initiative prioritizes research to evaluate specific interventions (e.g., policies, programs, practices) that have the potential to counteract the harms of structural and systemic racism and improve health, well-being, and equity outcomes. Learn more and apply.

Research in Progress

  • Policies for Action—Projects investigating public policy impacts on racial equity
  • Systems for Action—Studies to help communities tackle health equity problems cooperatively and share the benefits equitably

Structural racism and its associated injustices have created barriers for people of color since the beginnings of our nation. These barriers include unequal access to policies and practices that help individuals thrive, such as affordable health insurance, jobs that pay livable wages, and paid family leave. We see the effects of these structural barriers in all of our systems and structures, from unequal medical care to discrimination in housing, employment, education, the justice system—and beyond.

How does racism affect health?

Research shows that this history of individual and structural racism spanning generations denies opportunity to people of color and robs them of their physical and mental health. The life expectancy of people of color is often a decade or more shorter than their White neighbors just a few blocks away. They face a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and mental illness. And babies born to Black women are more than twice as likely to die in the first year of life as babies born to White women.

In connection with past and current Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) programs aimed at reducing health inequities and advancing health equity, this collection includes research findings and perspectives on the connections between race, racism and health.

To reach a Culture of Health, we must be honest about the fact that too many people in the United States start behind, and stay behind, because they don’t have the same opportunities as others. If we don’t acknowledge and address structural racism, we simply can’t make progress toward health equity in America.

Addressing Racism in Research Can Transform Public Health

Racism shapes virtually every aspect of life, opportunity, and well-being. It harms individuals and hurts the health of our nation by unfairly lifting up some and oppressing others. It is also the driving force of social determinants of health, including education, housing, and employment.

Editor's Pick

Understanding and Mitigating Health Inequities—Past, Current, and Future Direction

Eliminating health disparities will require a movement away from disparities as the focus of research and toward a research agenda centered on achieving racial equity by dismantling structural racism. Perspectives from RWJF Alumna Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, President and CEO Richard Besser, and Trustee David Williams.

Related News and Insights

Read expert perspectives and the latest research from RWJF to explore the opportunities and complexities of this topic.

Featured Program: Forward Promise
Youth Empowerment Project's the Village Program, established in 2009, provides out-of-school youth ages 16-21 with GED preparation and wrap-around case management services.

Darren Alridge of YEP, works with Justin Alexander, right, on GED prep.

YEP’s founders started the organization in 2004 in order to assist young people returning to New Orleans from correctional facilities. YEP now runs six programs out of three locations which provide over 850 youth annually with GED and literacy services; job skill development; mentoring; intensive case management; enrichment and summer activities; and a holistic set of client-centered ancillary wrap-around services that are unique to each youth and their individual circumstances.

Promoting the Health of Boys and Young Men of Color

This RWJF initiative aims to promote opportunities for boys and young men of color to heal, grow, and thrive in the face of chronic stress and trauma.

Featured Resource
Father and daughter take a stroll down Whittier Greenway Trail, a 4.5-mile recreational and commuter bikeway and pedestrian path. 
Whittier, California. 2016.  Greenway Trail. Many familes use the trail system to get to school. Signs of Progress.

Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity

The Ferguson Commission focused on guiding the St. Louis region in charting a new path toward healing and positive change after the death of Michael Brown, Jr. Their work resulted in a guide for communities needing to heal from racial truama.

Featured Perspective
Students in the Sports 4 Kids program playing games during recess at Garfield Elementary School, Oakland, California. Sports 4 Kids program (formerly called playworks).

RWJF: We honored sports teams with racist mascots. Not anymore.

In a USA Today op-ed, Richard Besser, RWJF’s president and CEO, discusses changes that the Foundation is making to its annual Sports Award program to more clearly recognize racism and discrimination as factors in health.