House Rules Committee declares racism a public health crisis

By: Sheila Regan, Freelance Community Journalist

The Minnesota House of Representatives advanced a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis in Minnesota on Tuesday. Authored by Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL, Mendota Heights), the new resolution passed in the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee. 

The House Rules committee took one step closer at chipping away at the “Minnesota Paradox,” a term coined by Samuel L. Myers Jr., from the Humphrey School of Affairs. That is, in spite of the state’s bright reputation for biking, parks and other desirable qualities, it still tops the list for racial disparities in nearly every measure of public health. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the senseless murder of George Floyd have shined a light on the historical and contemporary systemic and justices that are so deeply embedded in our society,” Richardson said in the virtual committee meeting. “Our systems are working just the way that they were designed to work and they have been designed to perpetuate injustice and to perpetuate inequity.” 

In her introduction to the resolution, Richardson gave background as to the many ways that systemic racism impacts the health of Black people, people of color, and Indigenous people in Minnesota. 

“Black women are three to four times more likely to die during childbirth than white women, even when you control for educational attainment, wealth, socioeconomic status, that disparity still exists,” she said. In 2019, the CDC reported the same statistic. “What is heartbreaking about those deaths is the fact that 60% of those deaths are preventable,” Richardson said. 

Richardson also cited another statistic reported by the CDC, that Black infants and babies are twice as likely to die before their first birthday. She went on to state that Minnesota has the highest excess death rates exists for indigenous and Black people at every single age demographic, in addition to high disparities in schools, housing, workforce, public safety, economic development. 

“Racism is a public health crisis, just as Covid is a public health crisis,” Richardson said. “It’s literally killing our communities. And racism must be recognized in order to take prompt action at all levels of government in order to address this crisis.” 

The resolution would acknowledge that racism is alive and well in 2020, according to Richardson. “It took well over 400 years of persistent and unrelenting injustice, to get us to this moment, and we know that this resolution is just one single step forward,” she said. “We’re not going to undo 400 years of racial oppression within a special session or within a resolution, but it is a step forward to begin the work of dismantling racism.” 

The resolution would involve a process of studying policies and practices in place of the Minnesota House of Representatives, using the lens of racial equity. It would also set equity goals through the councils policies and practices. According to Richardson, the assessment process would include human resources, vendor selection, internal processes, and hiring practices, promotions, and leadership appointments. 

In addition, “the work would include enhancing data driven education efforts on understanding addressing and dismantling racism and how racism affects public health, family stability, early childhood education, economic development, public safety, housing and the delivery of Human Services,” Richardson said. 

The resolution would also involve working with local, regional and federal initiatives that are working to advance efforts to dismantle systemic racism, and partner with local organizations that have a demonstrated track record of doing the same.

Speaking in support of the resolution, Rep. Michael Howard (DFL, Richfield), said that the Bloomington Public Health Department did a study that looked at the correlation between housing insecurity and health outcomes in Bloomington and Richfield.

“In Minnesota we have some of the widest racial disparities in terms of homeownership and home instability in the country,” he said. “So much of our systems have been set up this way. I really applaud this resolution naming it and hopefully guiding us towards work to dismantle systemic racism across so many issues in the future.” 

As for Ryan Winkler, Chair of the Committee and the Minnesota House Majority Leader, he said the committee will continue to have a significant role going forward. “I think of this resolution as a first step,” he said. “I  believe that with the right attitude and the right spirit of seeking to correct injustice, that we can move forward together.” 

The resolution passed the committee and heads to the house floor on Monday, July 20. 

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