FXB Center Health and Human Rights Fellow Submits Testimony to Boston City Council

Today, FXB Health and Human Rights Fellow Dr. Jourdyn Lawrence submitted written testimony to the Boston City Council Committee on Civil Rights in support of Docket #0734: Order for a Hearing Regarding Reparations and Their Impact on the Civil Rights of Black Bostonians.

In her testimony, Dr. Lawrence shared her expertise and research on reparations and racial inequities. Read her submitted testimony:

Dear Members of the Boston City Council Committee on Civil Rights,

I would like to thank the Boston City Council Committee on Civil Rights, especially the Chair and Docket Co-Sponsor Councilor Julia Mejia and Docket Co-Sponsor Councilor Kenzie Bok, for this opportunity to share written testimony. It is an honor to testify in support of Docket #0734: Order for a Hearing Regarding Reparations and Their Impact on the Civil Rights of Black Bostonians. My name is Jourdyn Lawrence, and I am a postdoctoral Health and Human Rights Fellow at the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. I am writing today, not on behalf of the institution, but as a Boston resident ardently committed to efforts towards racial justice, particularly those aimed at rectifying the historic and present-day harms towards Black American descendants of enslaved persons in the United States.

The cumulative impacts of the enslavement of thousands of Africans, the legalization of racial discrimination explicitly through Jim Crow laws, and the entrenchment of such biases in social, economic, and political institutions, have resulted in the present-day undue and unjust burden on Black people in the United States. Structural racism – an ongoing and persistent legacy – manifests through policies and practices implemented through interconnected social, economic, and political institutions. This system produces and exacerbates racial inequities, giving rise to the unjust outcomes we see for Black people in education, socioeconomic status, housing, political power, and health. Reparations would be a direct, structural intervention aimed at rectifying these historic and ongoing injustices. Reparations serve not only as a tool for acknowledgement and redress of the grave and horrific history of slavery, but also facilitate achieving Boston’s commitment as part of the Resilient Cities Catalyst to having populations that are more resilient to the economic, social, and physical challenges that we face.

Assessing the potential impacts of reparations on the civil rights and wellbeing of Black Bostonians is critical. Boston remains one of the most segregated cities in the United States. Segregation remains a predictor of several economic (e.g., household income, wealth), political (e.g., representation, political power), and health (e.g., quality of and access to health care, individual health) indicators. Additionally, Black American households in the Boston metro area have a median net worth of just $8, while for white households, this is over $250,000. In my research and area of expertise, wealth is a consistent predictor of health outcomes. Addressing Black-white wealth inequities has been found to contribute substantial reductions to Black-white health gaps and increase liquid assets, such as investments or savings, and homeownership for Black individuals.

The COVID-19 pandemic serves as the most recent and alarming example of how racial wealth disparities dramatically impact the health of Black Americans, as this community has carried the brunt of a disproportionate number of both cases and mortality. In fact, research has found that reparations would have lessened COVID-19 burdens for Black individuals had they been implemented. However, reparations alone will not close racial inequities in health. Discrimination within institutions, such as healthcare systems, and other structural barriers facilitate diminishing returns of increases in socioeconomic status to health for Black Americans. Wealth inequities and diminishing returns provide further evidence of the need to evaluate structural interventions, such as reparations, and ensure that any form of reparations works in conjunction with other transformational policies to improve the general wellbeing of Black Bostonians.

For more information on the FXB Center’s racial justice program, click here.