Amid the ongoing cultural reckoning over Confederate statues, the Sierra Club announced on Wednesday that it will consider renaming or pulling down monuments dedicated to its founder, the iconic conservationist John Muir.
When the George Floyd protests began in late May, it seemed like many companies and industries around the country were suddenly engaged in a “reckoning” about how racism organizes the structures of their workplaces. But a new report released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reveals how much (or, rather, how little) that recognition has really sunk in: only 13% of white HR professionals say they believe discrimination based on race or ethnicity exists in their workplace. (The report surveyed 1,257 Americans from June 11th to June 17th, 2020.) It’s disturbing to see that so few of the professionals who have such an outsize role in recruiting, interviewing, and hiring at companies believe that racism exists within their own walls. The SHRM report found that 49% of Black HR professionals, meanwhile, believe that racial discrimination exists at their workplace. Of all human resource managers, according to 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 77.8% are white, and just 11.1% are Black. The report also surveyed U.S. workers in general, not just HR professionals. Among white, non-HR workers, just 7% say that racism exists in their workplace. Among Black workers, 35% say the same. White HR professionals reported that gender discrimination was a problem in much higher numbers than racial discrimination, with 22% saying it exists in their workplace. Part of the issue seems to be the specificity of words like “racism” or “discrimination.” When asked whether their organization is doing enough to “provide opportunities for Black employees,” 35% of white HR professionals and 68% of Black HR professionals say no. The report also found that 33% of Black workers say they don’t feel respected or valued at work, compared to 18% of white workers who feel that way. Moreover, 45% of Black workers say that their managers don’t support talking about race, the same proportion of Black workers that say their workplace overall discourages conversations around race.It’s apparent that there’s severe discomfort around talking about race — 37% of both white and Black workers said they didn’t feel comfortable discussing it, with 42% of white workers going so far as to say it’s inappropriate to talk about race at work. HR professionals have a much different view, with 70% saying that discussions about race are appropriate at work. After all, if even just talking about it remains taboo, how can workers have an accurate grasp on whether racism manifests in their workplace?Workers more readily acknowledge that racism is a problem in general society, with 54% of Black workers and 29% of white workers saying that their workplace doesn’t do enough to “promote racial justice in the world” — but fewer workers will admit it’s a problem in their own workplace, impacting their everyday lives. These survey results provide greater context for the slew of black squares posted on Instagram in June and the sudden corporate support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the weeks after the police killing of George Floyd. Many companies, including Refinery29, were questioned on their sincerity in putting forward those messages, especially after former and current employees came forward about anti-Black racism they’d experienced in the workplace.To Black and other non-white workers across the country, this report may simply come as a confirmation of their experiences. After all, we’ve watched as some companies have shown a shocking unwillingness to make amends for objectively racist policies — even when it’s in their best interest to do so. After it was revealed that food magazine Bon Appétit, which is owened by Conde Nast, was underpaying its BIPOC staff, there were immediate calls for equal pay, as well as redress for other racist acts employees have faced. An internal investigation was launched, and for months, no new videos were uploaded to BA’s extremely popular YouTube channel, which is operated through Conde Nast Entertainment. Last week, writer Priya Krishna announced that she will no longer appear in videos, because the new contracts she and her colleague Rick Martinez were offered would still pay less than what their white colleagues are paid. To date, six BA staff members have announced they will no longer participate in the magazine’s YouTube videos.It’s clear that American companies as a whole need to be more proactive in addressing racism within their walls — and the first step to achieving that is unequivocally acknowledging the presence of it. The SHRM report reveals that the vast majority of workplaces (67%) haven’t gauged where their own employees stand on these issues. And while 52% of workplaces claim they plan on implementing some kind of implicit bias training, only 30% say they will adjust or expand “policies and systems” in an attempt to reduce racist bias.Like what you see? 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On Wednesday, August 5, Detroit Governor Gretchen Whitmer officially signed an order declaring racism a public health crisis, reports The Detroit News. The Michigan city joins 19 states, including Texas, Colorado, and California, and a growing number of cities and counties across the U.S. that have also pointed to racism as a determinant of health, according to the American Public Health Association. Even employees of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have pushed the agency to declare racism a public health crisis, in a June 30 letter addressed to Robert Redfield, MD, the agency’s director. “At CDC, we have a powerful platform from which to create real change,” the letter, obtained by NPR, reads. “By declaring racism a public health crisis, the agency has an unprecedented opportunity to leverage the power of science to confront this insidious threat that undermines the health and strength of our entire nation.”Although it wasn’t a formal response, on July 24 the CDC updated the “Health Equity Considerations and Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups” section of their website. It currently states: “Long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19… But some experiences are common to many people within these groups, and social determinants of health have historically prevented them from having fair opportunities for economic, physical, and emotional health.”That racism affects health is not a point of debate. The current pandemic disproportionately affects and kills Black Americans. Though they account for roughly 13% of the total United States population, Black people make up 23% of COVID-19-related deaths in the United States, according the CDC.Setting aside coronavirus, medical racism threatens the lives of Black Americans. Black women who see white physicians are less likely to be educated on preventative care, are less likely to be preventatively tested for diseases, and are less likely to be referred to specialty facilities than white females are, according to a 2013 meta-analysis performed by sociological researchers at Texas A&M University. The recent death of Sha-Asia Washington highlighted the fact that Black people are still more likely than their white peers to die during childbirth. The brutal killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Elijah McClain have drawn increased attention to the fact that Black people are killed by police at over twice the rate of white people, The Washington Post reports. There’s evidence that the burden of living in a deeply racist society has severe affects on mental health, as well. But while declaring racism a public health crisis seem revolutionary, it’s not a brand-new idea. In fact, Milwaukee County in Wisconsin declared it so in May 2019. What’s more, the action isn’t as big a step toward ending institutionalized racism as it may seem. “A public health crisis is not technically a legal term,” Paula Tran Inzeo, a director at University of Wisconsin’s Public Health Institute, tells Refinery29. “A crisis has no particular definition. The legal term would be ‘public health emergency.'” Originally, Wisconsin leaders originally had used the word emergency instead of crisis, says Inzeo. (She’s the director of the Mobilizing Action Toward Community Health Group, which in 2017 identified declaring racism a public health emergency as a priority for Wisconsin.) Some areas, like Minnesota, are still exploring using the label. But there are a few reasons why lawmakers are opting for the term “crisis” instead. Public health emergencies can only be declared in a few specific situations, including when a disease or disorder presents a PHE, or when an outbreak of infectious disease or a bioterrorist attack exists, reports the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. In some states, governors must get legislative approval to enforce the state of emergency; in others, they can enforce it for a set period of time but need legislative approval to renew it, according to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Getting that approval isn’t always easy. “It’s a political act to call something a public health emergency and it can be challenged. If there isn’t widespread support for it, there can be a lot of legal challenges,” Inzeo says.Declaring something a public health crisis, however, doesn’t require legislative approval, and there’s no time limit on how long the declaration can apply. There are also no restrictions around who can make the declaration. That may be why we’re seeing so many cities and states doing so.Of course, the declaration of a public health emergency frees up access to resources, such as government funds or the ability to waive certain laws in an attempt to ease the emergency. Declaring racism a public health crisis does nothing to divert money or legal protections toward the communities who are affected. “There’s no formal regulatory teeth around a crisis,” Inzeo says. “If they are successful at formally declaring a public health emergency, there are some set of guidance or orders.” But, she notes, “The goal is to allocate resources and things we know will make a difference. Declaring racism a public health emergency is one way to do that — but it’s not the only way,” Inzeo says, adding: “Lots of jurisdictions are beginning to allocate those dollars regardless, so there are a lot of entry points to this kind of work, and it will require shifts in power and shifts in the way we invest dollars at the very root causes of the issues.”Calling racism a public health crisis does bring awareness to the fact that racism impacts health outcomes, which is a good starting point and hopefully a way to drive action at multiple levels, Inzeo says. Still, the cities and states that sign these orders need to back up their words with concrete, radical actions — or else it’s really just an empty gesture. Making a public declaration is “an important first step in the movement to advance racial equity and justice,” emphasizes The American Public Health Association. The next steps, they say: the allocation of resources and strategic action.In the case of Detroit, for instance, the directive Whitmer signed also created the Black Leadership Advisory Council to “elevate Black voices” in the Detroit community and promote legislation that seeks “to remedy structural inequities.” The governor also asked the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to have all state employees undergo implicit bias training for employees. “We must confront systemic racism head on so we can create a more equitable and just Michigan,” said Whitmer (who may be on Joe Biden’s vice president short list, recent rumors suggest) in a statement. “This is not about one party or person. I hope we can continue to work towards building a more inclusive and unbiased state that works for everyone.”For now, it seems like the city is on the right track. Of course, we’ve seen firsthand that grand gestures toward change don’t always result in enduring action. But a declaration does invite accountability — so now’s the time to contact your congressperson to make your voice be heard in your state. The way our country has been handling the racial injustice pandemic is unacceptable, and it’s time for us to fight for real change.Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?Layla Saad On BLM, Allyship, & Racist WorkplacesHow Reality TV Can Confront Its Racism ProblemLGBTQ+ Youth Are Facing A Mental Health Crisis
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