Aug 14, 2020 at 7:08 PM
We find ourselves in a perfect storm with multiple flashpoints: A once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and a centuries-old struggle for justice. One is a public health emergency that has lasted for months and promises many future challenges: COVID-19. The other is the most insidious, long-standing public health emergency which has lasted for hundreds of years: Racism.
Current events underscore the seriousness of the situation. The novel coronavirus has laid bare the health disparities and disproportionate impact on people of color across the nation. The data also show the same disparities and inequities at play here in the Granite State.
A recent report issued by the N.H. Fiscal Policy Institute emphasized this. While non-Hispanic white residents make up 90% of the New Hampshire population, they constituted only 74% of identified COVID-19 infections. More than one in five hospitalizations were of someone who identified as something other than non-Hispanic white. That is a stark example of disproportionate impact right here at home.
There is a hunger in this country and in our state to finally address these injustices. This has never been clearer than in the recent widespread protests following the murder of yet more unarmed Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.
We’ve heard the tired narrative here in New Hampshire, questioning why we need a conversation about race. For those who believe the falsehood that New Hampshire is an all-wwhite state, it’s time to recognize this as a misleading narrative that hides the truth.
Yes, New Hampshire is still predominantly white, but the Seacoast has a long and rich history of African Americans who live in and shape this region. Our demographics continue to change. If we want our state to prosper and to build a talented and vibrant workforce, we need to embrace this growing diversity and continue our efforts to make New Hampshire a welcoming place. Our state’s most respected demographers and economists agree.
But first, there’s an institution we must collectively tear down: Structural racism. It’s the entrenched and rigged system designed to confer advantages on some, but not others. And it’s often hard to spot if you’re someone who has always benefited from that system. People of color have long experienced systemic barriers to wealth, employment, education, criminal justice, housing and health care, while bearing the disproportionate share of surveillance, mistrust and fear – often with lethal results.
These inconvenient truths have led to powerful examples of what concerned Seacoast residents are capable of. That was never more clear than during recent protests here in our communities. Several chapters of Black Lives Matter from the Seacoast, Manchester and Nashua came together in direct response to national and statewide injustices. That is a recent example but there has been powerful work afoot in the racial justice arena for years.
In our respective roles as board members at the Endowment for Health, New Hampshire’s largest health foundation, we are particularly proud of the Race and Equity in New Hampshire Series. That work has spanned more than four years and has grown to include hundreds of Granite Staters from all backgrounds and walks of life. We’re working together to promote race and equity in the domains of civic engagement, criminal justice/law enforcement, economic development, education, government, and health.
It’s not enough to be an ally who stands in solidarity with people of color as they do the work of fighting racism. We must all be anti-racist partners willing to take action and ask the uncomfortable questions right here on the Seacoast. We must be willing to confront examples of racism head-on – in our economy, in our school districts, and on our police force. In the face of racist incidents that make people feel unsafe in our communities, we need mechanisms to address the harm and support healing. Only then can we create thriving, multi-cultural communities that provide affordable housing, access to quality food, health care and economic opportunity for everyone.
None of us can be healthy without a culture free from the lie of racial constructs. Every one of us suffers from the societal setbacks of racism, no matter our background. We all play a part in shaping a future for our state where differences among our people are welcomed and celebrated. A future where geography, circumstance or skin color do not define our well-being.
Scott Bogle is a transportation planner who lives in Durham. Frank DeGiovanni is a former senior advisor at the Ford Foundation who lives in Hampton. Jennifer Near is a program director for Justice Funders who lives in Rollinsford. All three are members of the Board of Directors of the Endowment for Health. The views are those of the writers.