Michigan declares racism a health crisis. Without funding, it’s symbolic
By Robin Erb
With two pen strokes last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared racism in health a priority within the state’s government offices. But health leaders say it will be the follow-up — funding, policy change and enforcement — that determines whether the move is symbolic or transformative. “I'm glad they're getting people to the table … The thing is we've been discussing this and discussing this and discussing this,” Dr. Lynn Smitherman, a Detroit pediatrician, associate chair of medical education at Wayne State University, and a diversity and inclusion champion for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “You still have to do something. Discussion without action is just another academic exercise,” she said. At a panel discussion last week organized by Wayne State University and others, Dr. Michelle Williams said Black Americans also face institutional racism when they are sick — with access at times only to lower-quality care and even clinicians that turn them away or don’t listen to their concerns. Lyke Thompson, director of the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University, has studied lead poisoning extensively and said Black children in Detroit often live in older homes that have high levels of lead paint, which can impair learning and hinder lifetime earning potential. Thompson said he has called for strengthening laws that hold accountable the landlords who don’t address those issues, but a lack of political will has stopped short of making that happen. An official declaration that racism plays a role in policies — and a commitment to address it — may finally make a difference, he said. “This takes serious, clear, ongoing focus,” he said.