Racism and Health

Inequities across our nation have their roots in discrimination.

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Imagine what would be is possible if the burden of racial injustices were lifted from everyone in our society.

A book titled Necessary Conversations compels the reader to explore the complex relationship between racism and health and start the process of lifting barriers to pave the way toward justice and healing. With over 50 voices from academia, journalism, community-based and advocacy groups, this collection edited by RWJF's Alonzo Plough is vital reading on how to leverage lessons from our history to create a brighter, more equitable future.

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

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.

Resources for the Field

Achieving Health Equity

In a Culture of Health, everyone has the opportunity to live a healthier life, no matter who we are, where we live, or how much money we make.

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Read the AJPH article

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.

Read the AJPH article authored by RWJF staff

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.

Read the NEJM article

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Featured Program: Forward Promise

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.

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A Humbling Moment

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.

Read the op-ed

Featured Resource

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.

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