“Racism is bad for your health; it is a public health issue in Toronto” began Dr. McKeown in setting the stage for the 2013 Charles Hastings Lecture on Public Health that took place on October 29th at the Isabel Bader Theatre. The Hastings Lecture is an annual public lecture on the social determinants of health. This year’s keynote address, entitled “Race and Health – A Healthy Future for All” was delivered by Dr. David Williams, Harvard University professor and internationally recognized authority on racism as a determinant of health.
Drawing primarily on U.S. data, Dr. Williams left no stone unturned, presenting extensive research that established the prevalence of racism in society, and the degree to which the experience of racial discrimination damages physical and mental health. Dr. Williams told the audience: “Everyday discrimination is positively associated with many poor health outcomes. Racism has a weathering effect. The ongoing adversity of everyday discrimination, and the heightened vigilance that comes with it, wears the body down.”
Dr. Williams was joined on the stage by Uzma Shakir, Director of Diversity and Human Rights at the City of Toronto, and Naki Osutei, Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Toronto 2015 Pan/ Parapan American Games. These local equity leaders brought a unique take on the discourse of racism on this city, and drew on their personal experiences to bring the issue to life.
The profile of the issue of racism and health was given a significant boost in Toronto on October 29th. It was the first time a medical officer of health described racism as a public health issue in this country.