Confronting the pandemic of racism: A call to action

Contributed by Christian Salazar, PhD, UCI MIND Project Scientist

Racism is once again thrust into our national spotlight by the death of yet another unarmed Black American at the hands of police. Lamentably, the structures that create racism are deeply embedded in our society and have a direct impact on creating and maintaining health inequities. Indeed, numerous studies over decades have shown dramatic and persistent differences in health across racial groups. These disparities are in no small measure byproducts of racism.

To combat racialized health disparities, we cannot ignore the multifaceted ways in which racism manifests in our society. We must first recognize that race is a social construct not based on biology, and that one’s racial identity alone says nothing about one’s health risks. Rather, we have a social system in place designed to maintain a social hierarchy based on race, and this can have a profound impact on health. We see clear examples of how our racialized society— for example, through lower education, lower professional enhancement, lower socioeconomic status, poor access to health—promotes health inequities among people of color.

Racism in America is therefore a structural problem requiring structural solutions. This means that it’s not enough to simply change attitudes with platitudes. What is necessary are changes to institutional policies at the most local levels to initiate constructive change. Most important of all, confronting this pandemic of racism will require the full engagement of us all.

UCI MIND is committed to taking action and making a difference. To start, we would like to create a forum for ideas to be shared. On Friday, June 12 at 9:00 AM, please join UCI MIND Director Dr. Joshua Grill on Zoom to share your thoughts and perspectives. We would like to hear your ideas on how UCI MIND can do more or do better during this difficult time, which I hope will be a historical turning point. I look forward to a fruitful and engaging discussion. Join us!

To RSVP for the Zoom meeting, please email cgcox@uci.edu.


About Christian Salazar, PhD:

Dr. Salazar’s research aims to understand the mechanisms that create health disparities across the lifespan in vulnerable populations, such as those who are socially disadvantaged and ethnoracial minorities who remain underrepresented in clinical research. His previous work has examined the potential link between oral infections and systemic diseases in ethnic minorities. As a recent addition to UCI MIND, Dr. Salazar’s role as project scientist involves fostering community-based partnerships with Asian and Hispanic/Latino organizations to improve participation of minority groups in Alzheimer’s disease research.