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Granite State Isn't Immune to Structural Racism

The following OpEd is reprinted with permission from the SentinelSource.com. Josh Meehan is the Executive Director of Keene Housing, a member of the advisory council of the Endowment for Health, and a PHADA Trustee.

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 percent of the New Hampshire population, they constituted only 74 percent 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-white state, it’s time to recognize this narrative for the dog whistle that it is.

Yes, New Hampshire is still predominantly white, but our demographics are changing. If we want our state and region to prosper and if we want 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.

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, like me, who has always benefited from that system. People of color have long experienced systemic barriers to housing, wealth, employment, education, criminal justice and health care, while bearing the disproportionate share of surveillance, mistrust and fear — often with lethal results.

These inconvenient truths have led to statewide efforts to address the pandemic of structural racism, including the Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion, established more than two years ago in an effort to combat discrimination. More recently, a Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency was formed to examine our state’s policing practices and develop recommendations for improving the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

In my role as an advisory council member at the Endowment for Health, New Hampshire’s largest health foundation, I am particularly proud of that organization’s funding 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 in the Monadnock Region.

We must be willing to confront the shopkeeper who is unnecessarily following people of color in the store. We must insist our school districts teach our children a more complete history of our state and nation. We must call for community policing and de-escalation training. And hard as it might be, we must call out the neighbor who makes racist comments. We have to speak the truth even when it ruffles feathers.

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.

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