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Camara Jones Delivers First Speech for Racism as Public Health Series

In May of 2020, the murder of George Floyd highlighted the inequality of American society. Across the country, people from all walks of life protested police brutality and the inequity experienced by Black, indigenous, and people of color in American institutions. Given that the protests happened against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing disparities in healthcare was of concern to many protesters.

To begin the hard work of addressing the intersection of racism and community health, the Division of Public Health announced “Racism as a Public Health Threat,” an annual lecture series. This lecture series seeks to identify the currents of racism in health practice and philosophy and demonstrate that the physical health of the whole of society is negatively impacted when racist attitudes and practices are allowed to continue uncontested.

For its first installment, the lecture series partnered with Utah AHEC to bring Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones virtually to the U. Dr. Jones’s career has been marked by an unflinching commitment to exposing institutional racism and for making the case that racism, not race, is a risk factor for negative health outcomes. Dr. Jones’s well-earned reputation as a tireless leader in the fight for healthcare equity made her a natural selection for making the initial connections between racism and public health. Dr. Jones’s remarks served as the inaugural lecture for the Racism as a Public Health Threat series as well as the keynote for the Utah AHEC Primary Care Summit.

In her remarks, Dr. Jones used metaphors and storytelling to illustrate the negative effects of racism on a community interested in providing healthcare to its citizens. Drawing from everyday experiences such as gardening and restaurant dining, Dr. Jones showed how prejudicial attitudes can compound health inequity over generations, leading to a situation where even people in the same communities can experience healthcare in vastly different ways, based on their race. Establishing that baseline, Dr. Jones went on to identify mechanisms of racism operating in the American healthcare system and provide suggestions for using an understanding of institutional racism to dismantle it.

“We need to actively look for evidence of [institutional racism],” said Dr. Jones. “We need to shine the bright light of inquiry…We need to burst through our bubbles of experience to experience our common humanity. All of us are in a bubble of experience—our work, our children and their schools, our communities, whatever it is…Whatever kind of bubble of experience we’re in, each of us is in a bubble where we very often do not know that just across town there are people who are just as kind, funny, generous, hardworking and smart as we are, but who are living in very different circumstances. We as individuals and institutions need to create opportunities for us to burst through our bubbles of experience, to experience our common humanity in different circumstances so that we can start building common cause.”

Dr. Jones’s speech was followed by a Q&A session that involved local public health leaders including Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist. Dr. Jones's  keynote lecture can be found here.