Decomposing racial white supremacy and the core functions of public health


Global outrage followed the murder of George Floyd by now former Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officers. The outrage was targeted at police brutality—police conduct that dehumanizes through the use of physical, emotional, or sexual violence as well as verbal and psychological intimidation, regardless of conscious intent—one of the oldest forms of structural racism. In decrying police brutality, many public health organizations issued statements declaring racism a public health crisis, with promises of change. However, change is stymied if we do not critically evaluate how the discipline (scholarship, conceptual frameworks, methodologies), organizations (governmental, nonprofit, and private institutions that seek to promote population health), and public health professionals (in academia or practice) contribute to structural racism that is manifested in police brutality, among many other outcomes.

“Structural racism” here refers to policies and practices, in a constellation of institutions, that confer advantages on people considered White and ideologies that maintain and defend these advantages, while simultaneously oppressing other racialized groups. Structural racism is sustained through White supremacy: the glossary of conditions, practices, and ideologies that underscore the hegemony of whiteness and White political, social, cultural, and economic domination. White supremacy makes it possible for structural racism to reproduce over time, albeit with different mechanisms, from the enslavement of Black people to mass incarceration. Consideration of White supremacy makes visible that structural racism is “White controlled,” and without examining the former, we will not dismantle the latter in public health.

Alang S, Hardeman RR, Karbeah J, Akosionu O, McGuire C, Abdi H, & McAlpine D. Decomposing racial white supremacy and the core functions of public health. American Journal of Public Health, 2021; 111(5): 815-819. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2020.306137


  • Sirry Alang
  • Rachel R Hardeman
  • J'Mag Karbeah
  • Odichinma Akosionu
  • Cydney McGuire
  • Hamdi Abdi
  • Donna McAlpine


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