In recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21, we’re highlighting the relationship between racial discrimination and HIV. This year, the United Nations is focusing on a review of the International Decade for People of African Descent undertaken by the Human Rights Council in Geneva. In line with Achieving Together’s mission, we’re focusing specifically on the impact of racial discrimination on health and HIV.
How racial discrimination impacts health & HIV
When we talk about HIV and health issues in general, we must look at them within their specific context. It’s not a surprise that many of the health inequities we see, both across the state and across the country, are among communities of color. Many of those health inequities are fueled by racism and discrimination. Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by forced segregation and reduced access to resources, including health care and information. These constraints, or lack of access to resources, help drive epidemics.
There is currently a higher incidence of HIV within communities of color, which helps fuel the epidemic.
What we can do as individuals
There are a number of things we can do to address the issue of racial discrimination. The first thing we can do personally is to learn and understand where our privilege is. Being privileged means that you have rights or advantages that not everybody has. Begin to learn what it means to have privilege- whether as a US resident, as a white person, or as a man in our society. We need to learn what it means to have privilege and how it impacts our own decision-making and worldview. We should also learn to understand where our biases are. Bias means that a person prefers an idea and might not give a different idea an equal chance.
You can use the Harvard Implicit Association Test to better understand your biases. There is some criticism surrounding this tool because results have been shown to vary depending on when and how many times a person takes the test. However, it is a useful tool for starting a conversation. When we identify our biases, we can become aware of them and understand what role they play in our decision-making and how we interact with the rest of the world.
Another thing we can do is to venture outside of our personal comfort zone. If we become anxious, scared or concerned when we’re around people who are not like ourselves, we have to question why that is and begin to explore it. Going outside of our comfort zone is part of how we learn. We need to open ourselves up to conversations with people who don’t look like us or share the same views as us. Sometimes we surround ourselves with people who don’t look like us, but they share the same views that we do. It’s important to expand that to include people who don’t always share the same views as us as well. We can begin to learn from them and they, in turn, can learn from us. It’s important to continue to have conversations with people with diverse views, even if those views lead to discomfort. It’s so easy to find ourselves in our own echo chambers and we can forget that there are people we live and work with who don’t think the way we do.
What we can do as a community
At a higher level, it’s important that we bring diverse voices into our conversations, not just by hiring one specific person to represent a minority group, but by actively engaging with communities that are going to be affected by policies and decisions that are being made. If we’re looking to create a policy that aims to address homelessness, it is important to have conversations with people who are experiencing homelessness. We need to bring those voices into the discussion so that the decisions which are made don’t have unintended negative impacts on certain communities. Seeking information by holding focus groups with impacted communities, conducting community needs assessments, and including community in decision making will provide a more realistic view before policy decisions are made. This could be at an organization level, at a policy level, or a community level.
When we’re hiring or engaging with people in our community, we sometimes hear people say that race shouldn’t be a factor in decisions that are made. But, it’s important that we do see color because we live in a society that has been shaped by race. A lot of policies and decisions have been made on based on race in the past, and it’s important that we consider that historical context as we move forward.
Achieving Health Equity
The Texas Health Leaders Fellowship is one of the initiatives under Achieving Health Equity. The goal of this fellowship is to help provide leadership opportunities and skills to young black and Latinx gay and bisexual men and transgender individuals across the state because these groups are often under-represented in leadership roles. The fellowship team will work with young, aspiring leaders across the state to provide them with leadership skills, mentorship, and hands-on experience, which will, hopefully, allow them to step into leadership positions in their communities or in organizations in the future.
If you want to learn more: