Professor Ito Peng on why framing racism as a public health issue masks the real problem

Ito Peng

Professor Ito Peng recently spoke to Global News about racism and its implications when being framed as a public health issue. While beneficial for raising awareness, Professor Peng argues that framing racism as a health issue limits the scope of its both its roots and the work needed for society to dismantle racist systems of inequality.

Professor Peng is the Canada Research Chair in Global Social Policy. She is also a Full Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at the Department of Sociology and the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities on the St. George campus. Professor Peng is also the Director of the Centre for Global Social Policy. Her research explores the topics of gender, family, migration, and social policy.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below. The full story is available on the Global News website here.

Should racism be treated as a public health issue? Experts explain pros and cons

June 17, 2020

By

In Canada, there has been growing support to declare racism — specifically anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism — a public health issue in the wake of recent protests against police brutality.

On Monday, the Ottawa Board of Health unanimously voted to recognize racism and discrimination as a determinant of a person’s mental and physical health. Just last week, the Toronto Board of Health voted to recognize anti-Black racism as a public health crisis.

“Racism, discrimination and stigma are associated with poorer physical, mental and emotional health and greater mortality, making anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism and racism against minorities an important public health issue,” the Ottawa motion read.

…Declaring racism a public health crisis would place “the appropriate amount of attention on the seriousness and pervasiveness of Black racism in a way that helps us all appreciate that it doesn’t just harm Black people but has reverberating impacts on all communities,” he said.

Ito Peng, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto and director of its Centre for Global Social Policy, said typically, when a declaration is made, it triggers an immediate emergency response, reaction and policy from respective government systems.

This could involve defunding police, making body cameras mandatory or requiring mental health workers to accompany officers for wellness checks and non-violent calls. Peng said these are all helpful, necessary steps — but they won’t end racism.

“The challenge of framing this issue as a public health issue is that it reduces everything down to health, and in some ways, it masks the real problem,” she said…

Read the full article…