Racism is a Public Health Crisis

It is the mission of the California State PTA to positively impact the lives of all children and families. That mission means that diversity, equity and inclusion are the work of every PTA leader and member.

As an organization, California State PTA is thus compelled to confront and address the

lasting generational effects of systemic  and structural racism.  It is at the root of many of our systems and institutions that have never been equitable for all. Historically, structural racism has impacted services and care across all institutions within our society. Structural racism is embedded into our educational, health care, political and our health department systems and has minoritized specific groups, including Black/African-Americans, Indigenous, Latine, Asian American, Pacific Islander, and other people of color. It has, in effect, put these groups of people into a subordinate status in our society that is contradictory to our organization’s mission.

Racial Discrimination Persists in California

Racism, including unconscious and conscious bias, causes racial discrimination that persists across the many institutions that should equitably serve all children and families in California. These include:

  • Civic activities such as criminal justice and voting rights.
  • Services that affect socioeconomic status, such as housing, education, transportation and employment.
  • Health-related systems such as public safety, environmental exposure, and access to food, mental health support, and health services generally.

Anti-Black racism dehumanizes and marginalizes Black/African-American people and also affects other communities of color by privileging those with lighter skin. Racism also intersects with other forms of prejudice and oppression to increase adverse outcomes, including discrimination based on immigration status, gender and sexual orientation, and mental and physical abilities.

The Health Impacts of Racism are Well Documented

As of September 2021, over 200 cities and counties, as well as at least 5 states, have declared racism a public health crisis. In addition, several US government agencies have made similar declarations, including:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
  • American Public Health Association (APHA)

As of April 2023, the state of California has yet to join this list, though it is widely documented that, throughout California, Black/African Americans and other racial groups disproportionately experience chronic disease, shorter life expectancy, maternal and infant mortality, and other health inequities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), California Black infants are nearly three times more likely to die during their first year of life and nearly 50 percent more likely to be born prematurely than non-hispanic white infants.  National data further show that Black birthing people are over three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white birthing people.[1]

Moreover, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) have suffered from disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 infection and death. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated racial and social inequities by disproportionately impacting the Latinx community in particular as well as other communities of color.

Harms Extend into Other Aspects of Children’s Lives

San Diego County serves as an excellent example of these disparities.  A California Department of Health analysis reveals that Black/African-American children in San Diego County are three times more likely to be suspended from school compared to their white peers. According to the California Dashboard in the state of California, 7.9% of African American students get suspended in public schools. This is at a five percent higher rate than their white counterparts.

A 2021 Policy Brief from the Public Policy Institute of California notes that Black Californians are three times more likely to be seriously injured, shot, or killed by police (comprising 18% of these incidents) relative to their share of the population (6%). Latinos are also overrepresented among police encounters that result in serious injuries or fatalities.

According to a report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, Black/African-American transgender people live in extreme poverty, with 34 percent reporting a household income of less than $10,000 per year. More than twice the rate for transgender people of all races (15 percent), four times the general Black population rate (9 percent), and eight times the general U.S. population rate (4 percent).

PTA Champions the Needs of All Children and Families

Founded in 1897, the National Congress of Mothers, which later became the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, or National PTA, first met as a call to action regarding those who had even fewer rights and representation at the time than women, that was children. Merging in 1970 with the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers (NCCPT) to function in states that legally mandated segregation, PTA has continued in its 125 plus years to be a champion for ALL children and families.

There is ample data to support California State PTA’s belief that we must remedy historic health, social, economic, and criminal justice disparities that are still present in our state.  California State PTA supports advocacy and legislation that would:

  • Work to end racism; challenging historical and contemporary power structures
  • Address issues of racism and actively and authentically engaging with communities of color within our state
  • Share and shift power and agency to intersectional strata of BIPOC/SES class, particularly as part of “authentic engagement”[2]
  • Assure the teaching of accurate history in schools
  • Build health equity efforts
  • Support the affirmation and inclusion of marginalized populations and practices
  • Support policies to increase delivery of high-quality, culturally competent health care services to areas with disproportionately high rates of chronic diseases and;
  • Support efforts to gather and distribute data necessary to inform decisions and actions to reduce mortality and morbidity resulting from structural racism.

[1]  The term includes those who identify as non-binary or transgender because not all who give birth identify as ‘women’ or ‘girls’. This terminology is in no way meant to erase or dehumanize women.

[2] Black, Indigenous, People of Color/ Socioeconomic Status




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