When it comes to the health of Minnesota, systemic and structural racism are the ultimate underlying condition.
While our state is considered one of the healthiest in the country, the stark truth is that Minnesotans who identify as Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander, or as other people of color have less opportunity for good health and experience worse health outcomes. In fact, Minnesota has some of the greatest racial health inequities in the nation.
It is a disturbing paradox. Our state is home to a strong health care industry and world-renowned research institutions and facilities. We are a leader in passing policies that promote better health, such as the Freedom to Breathe Act. Yet, in their first year of life, African American and Indigenous babies in Minnesota die at twice the rate of white babies.
In St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood, life expectancy is 70 years, whereas in nearby, more affluent neighborhoods, it’s 83 years. Just a three-mile stretch on Interstate 94 equals a 13-year difference in lifespan, illuminating our vast racial and health inequities.
These health inequities have no biological cause. Rather, our Minnesotan reality is that race continues to be the ultimate “force multiplier” of inequity, and systemic and structural racism are the ultimate underlying condition.
This unjust truth has been reality for a long time. Despite this— and less than a year after Minnesota was the epicenter of a worldwide racial justice movement— 42 percent of recently surveyed Minnesotans still believe racism is not a significant problem in our state. Meanwhile, among those communities directly experiencing racism and racial inequities (that is, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islanders and other communities of color) and the inequities it brings, almost 80 percent say racism is a significant problem.
These sobering results must galvanize all businesses and individuals— particularly those who represent white mainstream culture— to shift away from a “‘none-of-my-business”’ mindset and instead make racism and its impact on health everyone’s business.
Last year, many organizations, municipal and county governments, and the Minnesota House of Representatives declared that racism is a public health crisis. The statewide resolution failed in the Senate, highlighting that legislators do not see eye-to-eye on this issue—and neither do a lot of Minnesotans.
While nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Black, Indigenous and people of color in Minnesota say racism is a public health crisis, a majority of white Minnesotans (57 percent) disagree.
The reality is that racism can be fatal— plain and simple. Racial and health inequities exist because people don’t have equitable access to things like health care, healthy food, or a safe place to live. This lack of access impacts health and is rooted in structural racism, which has taken a damaging toll on the health of our state for generations.
Recognizing racism’s impact on health is a start, but there is much more all of us can do. Our organization created anti-racism resources and action steps for businesses and individuals at BlueCrossMN.com/healthequity to support journeys toward anti-racism and to start to address embedded inequities.
It’s long overdue for us all to come together to dismantle racism. Once we do, we can aggressively work to create true health equity.