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Unequal Health Systems: Anti-Black Racism and the Threat to American Health

Racial and ethnic minorities in America experience a lower quality of health services, and are less likely to receive even routine medical procedures than are white Americans, a seminal report led by Brian Smedley, Ph.D., concluded in 2003. Nearly two decades since that damning Institute of Medicine finding, the fundamental problems of systemic racism in the U.S. health care system remain unchanged, just one aspect of a much broader American story. The tragic deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color have brought these disparities to the forefront of the national conversation, and prompted new and overdue conversations about the role of racism in damaging the health of Black (and indeed, all) Americans. A growing number of governments have joined the CDC in declaring racism a public health crisis, and research is illuminating how racism operates not just at interpersonal levels, but also at institutional and structural levels, through laws, policies, and systems that help create and maintain Black disadvantage. This webinar will share examples of how racism operates in health care systems, and how health disparities are compounded by structural forces such as residential segregation. Taken together, these forces ultimately erode Black health and hurt all Americans. The discussion will also feature examples of promising strategies to mitigate against these forces.

WHEN: Feb. 23, 2022, from 10 a.m.-11 a.m. PT / 1-2 p.m. ET 

REGISTER: [Now closed / watch recording above]


Brian Smedley is an equity scholar at the Urban Institute and led the team behind the landmark report “Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care,” by the Institute of Medicine. Before joining Urban, he served as the chief of psychology in the public interest at the American Psychological Association (APA), where he led efforts to apply the science and practice of psychology to the fundamental problems of human welfare and social justice. He was cofounder and executive director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity, a project that connects research, policy analysis, and communications with on-the-ground activism to advance health equity. He was also codirector of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Leaders national program center. Before that, Smedley was vice president and director of the Health Policy Institute of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C., a research and policy organization focused on addressing the needs of communities of color. He's currently working on a book on racism in health systems for Cambridge University Press. 

This webinar is part of a mini-series exploring health equity in health systems in America. The webinar is free and made possible by The Commonwealth Fund, the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation, and The California Endowment.

Related resources

View Brian Smedley's slides here.

Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care,” Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Understanding and Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care; Editors: Brian D. Smedley, Adrienne Y. Stith, and Alan R. Nelson.

20 years ago, a landmark report spotlighted systemic racism in medicine. Why has so little changed?” By Usha Lee McFarling, STAT


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