- Fall 2009
Racism, Health Disparities, and the Law
Professor Vernellia R. Randall
The University of Dayton School of Law
Social Policy is Health Policy is Law
Using the Law to Eliminate Health Disparities
Rising Wealth Inequality: Why We Should
Please notify me of any typo, misspelling,
"There is an Axis of Evil, An Axis of Evil of
inequality, of racism, of poverty, of economic deprivation
that is adversely affecting the health of the American people." David Williams
Social Policy is
Produced by California Newsreel with Vital Pictures.
Presented by the National Minority Consortia. Public Engagement
Campaign in Association with the Joint Center for Political and
Economic Studies Health Policy Institute
What does social policy have to do with health? Decisions
that governments and corporations make every day benefit some and
burden others. Unfortunately, they often reinforce class, racial and
gender inequities that contribute to unequal patterns of illness and
premature death. Building a social movement that can advocate
effectively for more equitable social policies is critical to
changing our economic, physical and social environments so that they
promote rather than threaten our health.
In other words, tackling health inequities is unavoidably a matter
of politics; of engaging in struggles over how we want our
government to allocate resources, regulate corporate power, and
implement the principles of democracy. It is also a matter of
empowering communities and reshaping institutions to address the
social and economic conditions that profoundly shape our health.
Tony Iton, MD, director of the Alameda County Public Health
Department in California, points out that social policies that
produce and reproduce socioeconomic and racial inequality have, over
time, “taken many forms, including racially restrictive covenants on
property, economic redlining in banking practices, school
segregation, [unfair] housing and urban renewal policies,
disinvestment in public transportation, discriminatory zoning
practices, law enforcement racial profiling, [discriminatory]
incarceration policies, and other deliberate governmental policies
But we’ve also made many changes during the last century that have
improved health equity by improving peoples’ lives: the eight-hour
work day, universal public high school, the right to collective
bargaining, social security, civil rights, environmental
standards... There’s no reason why we can’t do so again.
Opportunities for change abound. Iton and others suggest a wide
range of tangible policy options, including quality universal
preschool, improved public school funding, living wage laws,
affordable housing, zoning reform, improved public transit, fair
immigration policies, criminal justice reform, and, of course, full
employment, fair trade and even progressive tax policy.
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