From APHA President-elect Camara Jones: "It is difficult for all Americans to recognize our American privilege in the global context. But for those of us on the outside, we are very well-aware of the two-side nature of the sign." Photo by APHA

From APHA President-elect Camara Jones: “It is difficult for all Americans to recognize our American privilege in the global context. But for those of us on the outside, we are very well-aware of the two-side nature of the sign.” Photo by APHA

APHA has taken four deep dives into the impact of racism on the health and well-being of the nation. Last week, APHA President-elect Camara Jones helped conclude our webinar series with a story that summed up the “dual reality” that racism creates.

While sitting in a restaurant with friends late at night, she noticed an “open” sign facing inward from the front door. That meant that outsiders looking in could only read the word, “closed.”

“All of a sudden I understood how racism structures open and closed signs in our society,” Jones said. “Those on the inside were sitting at the table of opportunity. It is difficult for them to recognize it’s even a two-sided sign. It is difficult for any of us to recognize a system of inequity that privileges us. It is difficult for men to recognize male privilege and sexism. It is difficult for white people in this country to recognized white privilege and racism. It is difficult for all Americans to recognize our American privilege in the global context. But for those of us on the outside, we are very well-aware of the two-side nature of the sign.

“It is part of your privilege not to have to know.”

The webinar primarily focused on education, and how its policies in the U.S. have created health disparities. Education disparities are not just American problems, former APHA President Adewale Troutman pointed out; in El Salvador, children of mothers with no education are four times as likely to die in their first year of life compared to ones whose mothers have at least a secondary education.

But education inequities — and their impacts on health — are also very much American problems. According to Troutman, African-Americans have a 3- to 5-year lower life expectancy at birth than whites across major groups of educational attainment: between 0 and 12 years, 12 years, some college experience and college graduation. He added that state unemployment rates are “directly related to the economic status of a family or a community.”

Some states and communities are attempting to address the problem with “upstream” approaches. The Kalamazoo Promise, named after the Michigan city, gives all high school graduates the ability guaranteed to get a free, four-year college education at all Michigan public colleges and 15 private colleges. Since the initiative was announced, students are a third more likely to graduate college than before — and it has returned $4.60 for every $1 invested.

Longtime teacher and assistant principal Robert Murphy focused on the ABCs of dropout — attendance, behavior and coursework — and how all three are affected by racism. In particular, African-American and Latino students are often affected by “subtle” racism, which are contextually applied practices in education, justice, housing and socioeconomic opportunities.

The disparities are seen in practices, such as teacher expectations and disciplinary action for bad behaviors, to resources students can use to become successful in class.

“Oftentimes we label kids and we label communities and often don’t give them the resources that they need to be successful,” Murphy said. “Then we blame them because they don’t perform even though we give them the worst of the worst.”

This webinar is now viewable in its entirety at APHA online.