‘To be safe means to be healthy’ — Expert on racial health disparities

‘To be safe means to be healthy’ — Expert on racial health disparities

Written by Ana Sandoiu on July 16, 2020

In the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and COVID-19, it is time to rethink notions of public safety and public health. In fact, it is time to see that ‘being safe is a key dimension of being healthy,’ said Prof. Hedwig Lee, a health disparities expert, in an exclusive interview for MNT.


Share on PinterestDALLAS, TX – JULY 13: Protesters march down the streets during a rally in remembrance of Sandra Bland on July 13, 2020, in Dallas, Texas. Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests raised concerns, at the time, that they would cause COVID-19 cases to spike. Some people used these concerns to discredit the protests and the public health experts that supported them. 

However, the protests did not raise COVID-19 rates and called the notion of public health into question. It is becoming increasingly apparent that we can no longer ignore social determinants of health, such as poverty or racial discrimination. Police brutality is a public health issue, and so is racism. 

Furthermore, in some communities, a police presence makes the members of those communities feel anything but safe. This begs the question — what does public safety mean? What is the relationship between public safety and public health?

For answers, we turned to Hedwig Lee, a professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL). Prof. Lee’s research interests include health disparities, race, and policing and social control. She is also the associate director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Equity at WUSTL.

We started by inquiring about public safety and public health as if they were two separate notions, but Prof. Lee challenged us to “flip the script.” It is time to understand that “Being safe is a key dimension of being healthy,” she said. 

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