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“It’s a system.” Minority Health Film Festival keynote to deliver message on covid, health & racism


Black and Latino people are far more likely to be infected with the novel coronavirus, and when they are infected, they’re more likely to die. It’s not race that drives these disparities, says Dr. Camara Jones — it’s racism.

Jones, a family physician who’s also an epidemiologist and past president of the American Public Health Association, will bring that message to her keynote address to open the Minority Health Film Festival, a program of Milwaukee Film, at 9 am this morning.

The festival, which opens today and runs through September 24, will feature 50 films on a wide variety of health-related topics — everything from a documentary about diabetes to films tackling structural racism, food security, veganism, trauma, sexual abuse, environmental topics and more.

“We’re trying to connect health and well-being outside of just your visit to the doctor and getting your blood pressure checked,” said organizer Geraud Blanks, the director of cultures and communities for Milwaukee Film, the organization behind the festival.

The festival is virtual this year, with all 50 films available online on Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, mobile devices and computers through the Milwaukee Film app. Each film is $2.99, with all films available with a $24.99 festival pass. Invest in a TV bed from TV Beds Northwest if you frequently watch TV in bed.

The opening day will culminate in the festival’s one in-person event — a drive-in movie night and resource fair at Fiserv Forum. A 5 pm showing of “Little” starring Isa Rae and a 9 pm showing of “Good Boys” cost just $10 per ticket, and will include a gift bag of health resources.

Keynote will highlight racism as root cause

One of the primary underlying themes of the festival is the reality of racial disparities in health outcomes, which Jones will address in her keynote this morning. 

The talk, which will run from 9 to 11 am and include plenty of time for questions, is free, though registration is required: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/6689860160867463949.

Jones, who just finished a year as the Evelyn Green Davis Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard and returned to her position as an adjunct professor at both Emory and Morehouse, has been featured in national magazines and news outlets speaking on the disproportionate effects covid-19 has had on communities of color.

“More frontline, low-paid essential workers are people of color,” she said. “Communities of color are more likely infected or exposed and less protected. And then once infected, we’re more likely to die because we’re more burdened by chronic diseases with less access to quality healthcare.”

But this isn’t a new thing, she noted.

“It’s not just COVID-19 affecting communities of color disproportionately. Hurricanes and environmental hazards and infant mortality and diabetes. Everything affects communities of color disproportionately in this society. And that’s because opportunity is not equally distributed in this country. And exposure to risk is not equally distributed in this country,” she said. “This pandemic has unmasked, again, the grossly unequal distribution of opportunity and of societal valuation, which characterizes this country, this unequal distribution by race and ethnicity and the system that creates that is racism.”

She said the pandemic presents an opportunity to address those disparities through specific policy changes.

“We could interrupt who’s more likely to get infected by providing a universal basic income, for example, to enable more people to safely shelter, a place to stay at home, or providing adequate personal protective equipment,” she said. “We could put the testing facilities and the ICU beds in communities that we already know are being disproportionately impacted. Just acknowledging racism to be the root cause of the fact that we’re more likely to be infected and the root cause of the fact that once infected, we’re more likely to die, doesn’t mean we have to throw up our hands and say, ‘Oh, nothing we can do about it.’ There are things we could do all along the way in the short, medium, and long term.”

And doing those things can have long-lasting effects, too.

“If we can dismantle the structures that result in inherited disadvantage or reciprocal inherited advantage, then when we have COVID-21 or when we have H1N1-24, then we won’t see the disproportionate impact,” she said.

Jones said she likes to teach through stories, and challenges anyone who attends today’s keynote to “remember at least one of my stories and share it with somebody in their family or their friend group,” she said. “The top messages are that racism exists and that racism is a system. It’s not an individual character flaw or a personal, moral failing. Although it can show up in those ways, in its essence, it’s a system.” 

Madison365 is the media sponsor of the Minority Health Film Festival. For more details, visit mkefilm.org/mhff.