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Buncombe officials address racism as a public health crisis

Buncombe officials address racism as a public health crisis
In a unanimous vote Monday, the Buncombe County Health and Human Services Board acknowledged there's a better way to care for the disenfranchised. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Buncombe County officials on Monday took a step toward more equal treatment for people of color. And the COVID-19 pandemic was part of the driving force.

In a unanimous vote, the Health and Human Services Board acknowledged there's a better way to care for the disenfranchised.

"We're shifting power,and we're declaring a policy, and we're changing practices," board chairman Frank Castelblanco said.

The health and human services group said there's something structural in every aspect of life, something they said oppresses people of color.

"It's a very strong word, but it's important that, because it's a system that one group benefits over another group," Castelblanco said.

Castelblanco said the racism/health connection can be seen in the COVID-19 crisis.

In Buncombe County, Hispanic/Latinx residents make up 26 percent of those testing positive, but they represent less than 7 percent of the population. For black people, 8.5 percent of the cases test positive, while they make up 6.3 percent of the population. And Asians account for nearly 10 percent of the positives but make up less than 1.5 percent of the population.

CORONAVIRUS INFORMATION CENTER: TRACK THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS, IMPACTS, AND HEADLINES ABOUT THE PANDEMIC HERE

"In terms of housing, where people live close proximity to each other, in terms of food access, food insecurity is what it's called, those are things that have to be changed," Castelblanco said. "Like shifting some of the power to community organizations that are able to do the work, to actually level the playing field, to give more opportunities to people of color."

The same disparity holds true in other aspects.

"Women of color are more impacted by sexual violence at a higher rate," Our VOICE executive director Angelica Wind said.

Our VOICE, Buncombe County's rape crisis and prevention center, will likely one of the organizations that will benefit from the policy changes.

"By declaring racism a public health crisis, that'll be the start of how to allocate resources toward these communities that are already doing the work, and how do we support organizations that are doing that work as well at the ground level," Wind said.

"It'll be a while before this happens, but it's important to start. And this is a very strong start," Castelblanco said.

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