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Systemic And Structural Racism: Definitions, Examples, Health Damages, And Approaches To Dismantling

Racism is not always conscious, explicit, or readily visible—often it is systemic and structural. Systemic and structural racism are forms of racism that are pervasively and deeply embedded in systems, laws, written or unwritten policies, and entrenched practices and beliefs that produce, condone, and perpetuate widespread unfair treatment and oppression of people of color, with adverse health consequences. Examples include residential segregation, unfair lending practices and other barriers to homeownership and accumulating wealth, schools’ dependence on local property taxes, environmental injustice, biased policing and sentencing of men and boys of color, and voter suppression policies. This article defines systemic and structural racism, using examples; explains how they damage health through many causal pathways; and suggests approaches to dismantling them. Because systemic and structural racism permeates all sectors and areas, addressing them will require mutually reinforcing actions in multiple sectors and places; acknowledging their existence is a crucial first step.

When most people think about racism, they probably think of racial slurs, hate crimes, or other overtly racist actions. There are, however, other less obvious yet ultimately even more destructive forms of racism. Structural and systemic racism are often invisible—at least to those who are not its victims. This article defines structural and systemic racism, explains how they damage health and provides illustrative examples. Although we focus on how structural and systemic racism can harm the health of people of color, they also may damage the health and well-being of society overall—including the health and well-being of White people

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This article was originally published by Health Affairs