The VCU Center on Society and Health denounces the recent rise in expressions of hatred in America and the increasingly threatening and violent acts of intolerance occurring in communities across the country. We feel compelled to speak out in response to the events of August 11-12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, where hundreds of white supremacists, neo-Nazi sympathizers, and the Ku Klux Klan converged on the campus community of our sister institution, the University of Virginia. Like most Americans, we were horrified by the hateful messages, violence, and tragic loss of life.
The belief that some people are superior to others, which animates the current unrest, has a long, ugly history in America. For generations, attitudes of supremacy have fueled the oppression of African Americans and other people of color, of women, of immigrants, and of those whose religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation is considered inferior or threatening.
Our Center studies health inequities, and our work has shown that health is shaped by the conditions in which we live and the opportunities available to Americans to gain access to a good education, income, and healthy environments. In many U.S. cities, life expectancy differs by as much as 15-20 years between neighborhoods separated by only a few miles. Areas of poor health are frequently places of concentrated disadvantage, often populated by people of color. These are often places where schools, jobs, housing, transportation infrastructure, and other resources are inadequate for people to achieve social and economic mobility and build a better future for their children.
Limited neighborhood resources did not come about by accident; they are not the product of the residents but the legacy of policy decisions made generations ago by elected officials, business leaders, and others in power to segregate residents deemed undesirable and to disinvest in the communities in which they lived. Although the civil rights movement of the 1960s brought remarkable progress in providing legal protections, the effects of decades of these policies still impact residents of affected communities today.
Sadly, our country is witnessing a movement to roll back many of those protections and to return to the incivility of the past. Recent events remind us that there is still work to be done in America to heal racial divisions that have existed throughout its history, to address the recent rise in hate crimes, and to stand up as a society to acts of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny.
We agree with Martin Luther King, Jr. that all people should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. No person or family should be demeaned or harmed because of their religion, the people they love, or their country of origin. The VCU Center on Society and Health is a nonpartisan organization, and we believe that it is an American value, shared across all political lines, to defend the dignity of humanity—and we expect elected officials of all parties to lead that effort. All people of goodwill should decry and peacefully resist efforts by those who claim ethnic superiority and threaten the life, property, and future of their neighbors.
VCU Center on Society and Health