Lantz defends critical race theory

May 31, 2022

Widely-read Milbank Quarterly op-ed explains CRT’s importance to population health

By Olivia Bradish (BA ’23)

Since January 2021, 42 states have introduced bills or taken other steps to restrict how “critical race theory” and other so-called “racially-divisive concepts” can be discussed in public primary, secondary, and higher educational settings, according to Education Week. And many of these bills have been passed. Deeply worried about the impact of those constraints, Paula Lantz, James B. Hudak Professor of Health Policy, took action.

She wrote an opinion piece titled, “The Tenets of Critical Race Theory Have a Long Standing and Important Role in Population Health Science,” published in July 2021 by a top peer-reviewed healthcare journal, The Milbank Quarterly.

The article struck a nerve: it’s been viewed over 20,000 times since publication.

“Many people who are both criticizing and defending CRT do not really understand what it is and what it is not,” she says. “I wanted to write a short piece that would explain the main tenets of CRT and how important they are for understanding racial inequities in society in general, and health inequity specifically. This includes the role of public policy in structural racism and systemic discrimination.”

Lantz says that “CRT provides a framework for unpacking and understanding the fact that racial differences in important social outcomes, including morbidity, mortality, and other health indicators, exist and persist in the United States and other societies despite advances in civil rights.”

Her Milbank piece describes four basic tenets of CRT (see sidebar), and defends them as “a framework for a critical analysis of what drives ongoing racial inequality that builds upon long-standing scientific theories and concepts, . . . supported by decades of multidisciplinary scholarship.

Lantz ends her Milbank piece by calling on her colleagues to take action and defend CRT.

“(I)t is incumbent upon those committed to health equity through population health science to publicly defend the tenets of CRT and their long-standing contributions to population health,” she wrote. “The stakes—the ability for education, research, community-based efforts, and policy reform to improve the health and well-being of all—are incredibly high.”

Lantz has continued to speak out about restrictions on teaching about structural racism. She’s quoted in a February 2022 STAT News special report on systemic racism and health disparities, delivering a stark warning to colleagues at a health equity summit. “It’s honestly chilling me to the bone. I am so concerned about this movement. There can be no progress toward health equity without the naming, framing, and dismantling of structural racism.”

Lantz sees a brutal irony in current efforts to ban CRT: “It is actually the epitome of structural racism to use the power of law to ban or prohibit teaching about structural racism in public schools and universities.”

Visit our site to read Lantz’s op-ed in The Milbank Quarterly

Lantz defines four tenets of critical race theory

  1. Race is a social construction—the way that race is defined and experienced is the result of social and political thought and actions that change over time.
  2. Although individuals can indeed be racist, racism and its outcomes are perpetuated in society through social processes above and beyond individual actions including through cultural norms, institutional rules, and laws and regulations.
  3. Because the differential treatment of individuals based upon racial classification is embedded within social systems and institutions—including public policy and law—racism is commonplace rather than rare and aberrant.
  4. While racism is perpetuated at the structural/macro level in society, listening to and understanding the lived experiences of individuals is essential for understanding how racism works to create inequities in individual outcomes, including health.


More in State & Hill

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