SAHM Statement about Recent Victims of Systemic Racism in Law Enforcement

SAHM Statement about Recent Victims of Systemic Racism in Law Enforcement

On behalf of the members of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM), we write to express our shared outrage, grief, and pain over the horrific murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breona Taylor, and George Floyd. We are heartbroken that their names have been added to the ever-growing list of Black people who have been the victims of the systemic racism present in law enforcement and justice systems.

As noted in recent position papers by SAHM and the American Academy of Pediatrics, racism is a pervasive reality in the U.S. and globally and has profound and destructive effects on adolescent health and well-being. Racism comprises prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination, and drives unequal distribution of privilege, resources, and power in favor of the dominant racial group and at the expense of all others.

We as adolescent health clinicians and researchers understand deeply that racism is a core social determinant of health that has far-reaching effects on health and well-being. All levels of racism –  institutionalized, personally mediated, and internalized – drive disparities in health outcomes. Experiences of discrimination lead to internalized negative stereotypes that preclude the development of a positive identity and may lead to depression, anxiety and suicide. Discrimination leads to chronic stress responses that drive disparities in health conditions such as hypertensionDisproportionate incarceration of Black youth has detrimental effects on their future economic security, health, and well-being. Violence perpetuated against people of color, especially Black men and transgender women, leads to mental health disorders and deaths. Systemic inequities and discrimination in school settings reduce the opportunity for academic achievement and lead to harmful effects due to excessive discipline and suspensions.

As health professionals and researchers, we must recommit every day to work that aligns with the moral and ethical principles of justice, inclusiveness, equity, and respect for all individuals, and must work tirelessly to dismantle systemic racism. We must train providers to respond to youth experiences of racism. We must conduct research to develop interventions to prevent racism’s negative effects in clinical, school, and juvenile justice settings, and implement these interventions widely. We cannot achieve our goal of improving adolescent health and well-being without addressing racism and its fundamental role in driving health disparities.

As individuals, we must hold ourselves and others accountable for identifying and addressing racism in all its forms. Maya Angelou said, “The plague of racism is insidious, entering into our minds as smoothly and quietly and invisibly as floating airborne microbes enter into our bodies to find lifelong purchase in our bloodstreams.” We must wholeheartedly commit to being anti-racist and working for racial justice. We must strive to dismantle racist systems in all fora of civic engagement: through activism, advocacy, education, service, and electoral participation. Those of us who are White must seek to understand the experiences of people of color with humility and the recognition that the legacies of the United States’ greatest racial injustices continue to privilege us today, including slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, poll taxes, redlining, and blockbusting. Communal health and well-being cannot be achieved until these legacies, which deny many Black people safe and stable housing, nutritious food, and access to health care, are uprooted. And to those of us who are Black and Brown: as you know, we have been afforded some degree of privilege built on the backs of those before us. We are not immune. Our education and relative wealth do not protect us fully. Please be mindful and take quality care of yourselves as you weather the large and the small daily impacts of racism.

It has been said that “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” (unknown) We must harness our outrage: combined with our compassion, it is the key to achieving racial justice and reducing the health and social inequities that injustice breeds.

Jessica Kahn, MD, MPH, FSAHM, President
Maria Trent, MD, MPH, FSAHM, Immediate Past-President
David Bell, MD MPH, President-Elect

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