By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative
The most important piece of health legislation in this year’s session might just be one without the words Medicaid, health insurance, or the names of any disease conditions in it.
Instead, it is a bill addressing institutional racism, the practices and policies within institutions (e.g schools, courts, hospitals, businesses) that lead to unequal access to resources based on skin color.
A week ago, the health professionals, educators, and community activists of the New Mexico Health Equity Working Group (NMHEWG) rallied for the bill at the first-ever “Anti Racism Day” at the legislature.
House Joint Memorial 32, sponsored by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas (D-Albuquerque) and Sen. Tim Keller (D-Albuquerque) passed its first test, being approved by the House Labor Committee at 8pm on Thursday, February 17th.
The bill calls for all state agencies to “adopt a policy to address institutional racism no later than January 1, 2012.”
“Racism is the most dehumanizing concept ever conceived by the human race. It not only strips humanity from its victims, but from its perpetrators as well,” said Representative Maestas. “Our country will never reach its full economic, moral and humanistic potential until all of its members are allowed to reach their potential as individual human beings. We must undo racism for the future of each person in our society and the future well-being of our nation.”
The diverse viewpoints of NMHEWG members testifying at the committee hearing was impressive. Kristine Suozzi spoke about inequities in health in our state, while physician Jamal Martin spoke on the plethora of state, federal, and international mandates to eliminate all forms of discrimination. Tony Watkins spoke on the inequities in education, Susan Scott addressed discrimination in hiring practices, and Rosita Avila spoke as a community activist.
Hakim Bellamy, well-known Albuquerque slam poet and activist, used poetics to get the point across, “Institutional racism is like carbon monoxide – invisible but deadly.”
HJM 32 is expected to be heard on the floor of the NM House of Representatives this week.