Deep dive needed on DC racial health disparities, researchers say

This report is part of WTOP’s coverage of Black History Month. Read more stories on WTOP.com here.

Researchers say structural racism has left D.C. with stark differences in health outcomes, and a new study takes a deeper look into the issue.

“We are constantly talking about these racial disparities that we see by place and race in the District of Columbia,” said study co-author Christopher King, an associate professor at Georgetown University and the chair of its Department of Health Systems Administration. “And to understand that and to unpack that, it’s important that we look at practices, policies and events that have occurred in the past 200 years.”

Those practices include urban renewal, white flight and redlining, which is the withholding of financial and other services to neighborhoods deemed “hazardous.” Additionally, a unique factor has been D.C.’s lack of autonomy, the study authors write in the journal Health Affairs.

“When people are not politically represented, their needs and what’s most important to them are overlooked,” King told WTOP. “The fact that we’re a city of Black plurality certainly has played a role in sustaining that.”

Regarding autonomy, he points to situations “where the fact that we are not a state prevented us from having access to dollars that were needed during public health emergencies,” including the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, he added, “there’s also wonderful things happening,” such as the existence of the D.C. Office of Health Equity and the mayor’s commission on health equity.

This report is part of WTOP’s coverage of Black History Month. Read more stories on WTOP.com here.

John Aaron

John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, PA, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP sports.

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