Linda Villarosa on the impact of the racist health system on “every body”

After decades of reporting and editing stories about the physical and emotional health of black women, Linda Villarosa realized that everything she thought – everything we all thought – about health disparities in the United States was wrong. In her new book, Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and Our Nation’s HealthVillarosa dismantles the notion of the black health crisis as an individual problem and exposes the origins of racism in today’s healthcare system, of which he has gained a deeper understanding over the course of his career, to Essence magazine, as a university professor, as a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and Project 1619, and through his own experiences as a black person in America. We talked about the impact of a racist healthcare system on every body and what, despite everything, keeps it going. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

—Queen Mahone

R.done M.ahone: How does structural racism impact not only blacks, but also the “health of our nation”?

Leverywhere V.illarosa: It is about what is happening in the country compared to other countries. Because our country is so rich and why our healthcare system is so advanced, but if you look from birth to death, we have some of the highest infant mortality rates compared to other rich countries. We have one of the lowest life expectancies compared to other rich countries. And in the meantime, we are the only rich country where the maternal mortality rate is on the rise. So I started thinking about these three things, which also intersect with what’s happening to blacks, which for me equals inequality.

Blacks have never had the same health since we came to these shores. So it’s like, well, why do we keep thinking of this as a black problem? This is a nationwide problem. This is a problem we all have to solve in America. And thinking about it more broadly helped me say, “Wait a minute, if this isn’t a problem blacks have to solve on their own, then I have to find a way to communicate what’s going on.”

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