GCU researcher behind hugely successful 'How Racism Shapes our Health' seminar

Tue, 01 Jun 2021 10:07:00 BST
Dr Ima Jackson
Dr Ima Jackson

Community-engaged researcher Dr Ima Jackson recently organised one of the biggest public health events in Scotland focusing on tackling structural racism which is at the root of racialised inequity in health.

She managed to secure global expert in the field David Williams, Professor of African and African American Studies and Sociology at Harvard University, for her seminar entitled 'How Racism Shapes our Health'.

Around 1,000 people attended the webinar, from ministers to community workers, and from researchers to public health experts, to listen and learn together in an effort to get a real understanding of racism as a fundamental cause of health inequality. Watch a recording of the seminar here by entering passcode: 72.ByV.G

Dr Jackson, Co-Chair of the Scottish Migrant and Ethnic Health Research Strategy Group, is working with Public Health Scotland to develop an understanding of racism and racialisation as fundamental determinants of health in Scotland. This work is committed to ensuring Scotland has the information it needs to address racism, discrimination and the impacts on population health.

Dissatisfied with an assertion that race mattered for health but without an understanding or articulation of what the mechanisms and pathways might be, Professor Williams has dedicated his career to better understand and evidence this.

In the webinar, which is part of the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) seminar series, he outlined the insidious effects that implicit biases, unconscious discrimination and racialised frames of reference have in creating and maintaining the deep-rooted institutional and systemic racial discrimination that pertain today.

Professor Williams also presented the discrimination scales he has developed that measure and evidence different types of interpersonal discrimination and their negative effects on health.

After sharing his evidence Professor Williams, together with a group of panellists chaired by Dr Jackson, explored how we can begin to dismantle the racial discrimination that exists across public health institutions and systems in Scotland.

Among those on the panel were the new Chief Executive of NHS Scotland and Director General for Health and Social Care, Caroline Lamb, Director for Place and Wellbeing at Public Health Scotland Claire Sweeney, and Agatha Kabera, a young CEO of community-led mental health charity, the Baba Yangu Foundation.

Dr Jackson said: "This is the biggest event Glasgow Centre for Population Health has ever held with just under 1,000 people attending from ministers to community workers, artists to researchers and public health experts.

"It was a huge piece of work to make this happen. It has taken over two years of focused work with support from GCPH and Public Health Scotland boards and senior staff - with the help of a pandemic evidencing racialised inequity - to enable this space to open up and for Scotland to join the global conversation in addressing racialised inequity.

"Of course, in my view everybody involved in health should at least watch the recording of this webinar because Professor Williams explains an understanding of what racism is in our health and social systems, not about interpersonal racism, but about structural racism which of course we have seen evidenced in the pandemic of who is most at risk, systemic health inequalities and an insight into why.

"People tend to think of racism as though it's an interpersonal thing, such as in relation to access to health or someone's not nice to you, and that is kind of what it's seen as, but this is really serious proven epigenetics.

"You're more at risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and loads of health indicators if you are South Asian, African, or African Caribbean because of living a racialised life – and our systems of public health don't see that.

"You cannot deal with structural racism if you don't name it nor organisationally, intellectually know what it is, so there was a huge call out to public health to look at what it does, critically rethink and engage.

"My work was to bring this to the fore in Scotland to help public health in Scotland understand structural racism and how it is within our work."

Dr Jackson is also co-chair of the First Minister's Advisory Council on Women and Girls, co- chair of the Expert Advisory group on COVID-19 and Ethnicity and chair of the Board for the CCA- Centre for Contemporary Art Glasgow.