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Virginia Senate Considering Legislation Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis

Lawmakers are considering a resolution that makes a declaration about the problem of racism.

Racism isn't just something in the history books plaguing the earliest days of Virginia history or even the dark days of massive resistance to segregation. It's also a public health crisis. That's the sentiment at the heart of a resolution passed by the House now under consideration in the Senate.  


The governor's chief diversity officer, Janice Underwood, says slavery, Jim Crow and segregation have long plagued Virginia.  


"These and so many other symptoms of racism," Underwood says. "A public health crisis, now much more nebulous, more like James Crow, Esquire, became undeniable in the current twin pandemic of COVID-19 and racial injustice where we all witness the disparate impacts of racism and the coronavirus on all people of color." 


The resolution was introduced by Delegate Lashrecse Aird, a Democrat from Petersburg, and it passed the House with an almost party-line vote. Only one Republican voted in favor. 


"Many of the people I believe who are voting no, they think that they are voting to agree that they are racists. I know that just based on some of my conversations," Aird says. "Many people still do not understand the difference between racist acts, being a racist and what I am referencing, which is systemic racism." 


Aird says she hopes declaring racism a public health crisis will be a first step toward training for elected officials, community engagement and an expanded charge for the Office of Health Equity. 


This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.