June Jackson Christmas, M.D. APHA President, 1980

Social Justice at Home and Abroad

When I became president, California was in a leadership role. Proposition 13, a tax-cutting effort, resulted in that mentality that was supposedly fiscal austerity, but was really philosophical conservatism – all of the cuts and diminution in services of Reaganomics. Here we are a number of years later. California is in a leadership position again, with Proposition 209 that would dismantle Affirmative Action. I know that we felt then that the activism of APHA ought to be in preserving services and preserving the infrastructure of health, and then pushing for services for people who need them then.

I remember that, in presenting the APHA Presidential Citation to Rosa Parks, I said that her activism was a model for us, because it was a catalyst for changes that improved the health status of not only black Americans, but all Americans, and the social ethic as well.

We, as public health workers, have to look not only at poverty — terrible as it is and pervasive as it is, but we also need to look at the intersection between poverty and racism, and how it limits access to good housing and leads to toxic waste products in black and brown neighborhoods throughout the country. We know who lives in the most debilitated and deteriorated housing. We also know that the infants of black women tend to have a higher rate of low birthweight. We need to understand how social, biological, socioeconomic, and political factors interact in causing these problems.

I hope that, as members of APHA and affiliates, we can move forward beyond what President Clinton has called a dialogue on race. We must look at how inequities and racism interact with poverty if we are going to improve the health of the public.

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