The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion We should confront racial disparities in health outcomes with empathy

Virginia Health Commissioner Colin Greene listens June 23 at a Virginia Department of Health Board in Richmond. (Shaban Athuman/Richmond Times-Dispatch via Associated Press)
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The June 27 editorial “Racism is a health-care issue” scolded Virginia’s health czar Colin Greene for “casting doubt on widely accepted research showing that racial inequity and disparate treatment have contributed to high rates of Black maternal and infant mortality.” Yet such research provides an incomplete story by providing only binary Whites/Blacks results.

A quick search in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s database shows that the White infant mortality rate at the national level was less than half that of Blacks in 2019, but so was that of Hispanics and Asians. Or that the national maternal mortality rate for Whites was less than half that of Blacks from 2018 to 2020, yet that of Hispanics was even lower than Whites. Breaking down the data further shows a combination of results where no race category has a monopoly on favorable results.

The question isn’t whether racism bias is nonexistent — it obviously exists and is not incidental by race — but to what degree it influences health disparities. These disparities should be confronted through open-minded conversations using underlying data from all factors, and especially with empathy and political savvy, as Mr. Greene learned the hard way.

Robert Lazaneo, Fairfax