Systemic Racism and Health Equity

Grandfather walks through a park with his grandson.

Systemic racism damages the health of people of color, and can also damage the health and well-being of virtually the entire society in which it operates.


Systemic racism is racism that is pervasively and deeply embedded in systems and structures such as laws, written or unwritten policies, and widespread, deeply rooted, established practices, beliefs, and attitudes that produce, condone, and perpetuate widespread unfair treatment of people of color.

Addressing systemic racism is crucial for achieving health equity. This report, produced in partnership with the University of California, San Francisco, examines what systemic racism is, the harm it causes and how it does so, and strategies to dismantle it.

Key Findings

  • Systemic racism often and deeply harms health by placing people of color at socioeconomic disadvantage, depriving them of access to key resources and opportunities needed to enjoy good health.

  • Laws and policies created racial inequities; laws and policies can eliminate them. One of the most crucial areas where new legislation is needed is to prevent voter suppression, given actions in many states to restrict rights.

  • It is far easier to enact initiatives that mitigate the harmful effects of systemic racism while leaving the unfair systems and structures in place, or that focus on short-term improvements rather than sustained or fundamental change. But the structures that disadvantage people of color, regardless of intent, must be dismantled.

There is no single solution, and addressing systemic racism will require multiple reinforcing strategies, across sectors and places, at levels from local to national. Effective approaches will activate and support people to vote; learn; speak out to their children, families, friends, and coworkers; organize in their neighborhoods, towns, states, and nationally; and to support, join, and become leaders of organizations pushing for change.

What is Health Equity?

Consensus around the definition of health equity can help bridge divides and foster productive dialogue among diverse stakeholder groups.

Read the report