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Arnold School of Public Health

James captivates audience with discussion of achieving racial equity in America

December 3, 2015 | Erin Bluvas, 

After introductions from Arnold School Dean Thomas Chandler and Associate Professor Katrina Walsemann, Professor Sherman James  presented “The Black Image in the White Mind: Implications for Achieving Racial Equity in America” at the Annual Winona B. Vernberg Distinguished Lecture Series on November 18. James, who is currently a professor of epidemiology in the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, discussed causes, effects, challenges and possible solutions related to racial inequity and health disparities.

The S.C. native began his presentation by discussing the recent epidemic of lethal use of force against unarmed black people by both police and non-police, particularly the June 2015 shooting of nine bible study members in Charleston and the resulting outcomes (e.g., forgiveness by family members, removal of flag). James pointed out that though these symbolic effects are encouraging, there is still much work to be done “to climb the steep mountain of racial equity in America,” especially as it relates to explicit and implicit (i.e., unconscious) stereotypes by whites that permeate American culture.

“One of the greatest, if not the greatest, challenges we face today in achieving racial equity in America is widespread, unconscious anti-black racial bias,” he said. “It is important that we figure out how to build partnerships with scholars, activists and policy makers who have taken up this charge.”

James summarized some research on how cultural forces condition the human brain to respond to people of a different race and how anti-black bias is manifested in three major social systems (criminal justice, health care, education) that have population health consequences. He then made some suggestions for interventions at the structural and individual levels for each system.

In discussing how historical examples of progress toward racial equality (e.g., Civil Rights legislation) have often followed the unwarranted loss of many black lives, James asked, “must the price for progress be so great?” “No, the price need not be so great,” he answered.

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