Two things are clear about the recent mass killing of Black people on May 14 in a Buffalo, New York grocery store. First, the attack committed by 18-year-old white male Payton Gendron that resulted in the death and injury of 11 Black people was an outright racist act. 

Second, we’ve seen this happen before. 

In 2015, we mourned after a 21-year-old white supremacist entered a Charleston, South Carolina church and murdered nine Black members during a Bible study.

Despite that, after turning off the news or shutting down social media, it could be easy to think this most recent attack is an isolated act of racial violence that isn’t likely to happen again. 

But Dr. Chandra Ford, who serves as the founding director of the Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice & Health at the University of California in Los Angeles, says the thread of hateful acts toward the Black community is a part of a much larger, active, and enforced legacy in the United States — and it’s damaging the public’s health.

“We could think of racism as a societal issue or a sociological issue. We could think of racism as a political issue. But to think of racism as a public health issue is to say, sure, all those things are true, but racism also systematically produces differences in the opportunity to achieve optimal health,” Ford says. “And those systematic differences, they don’t occur along lines of risk factors related to health, which sort of justify themselves. They occur systematically along the lines of race and ethnicity.”

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