Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is working to change the dominant narrative on health and increase positive and accurate representations of Black, Indigenous and communities of color to improve health outcomes.
While it’s imperative to look at the injustices Black people in America continue to endure, communities are far more than the inequities they experience. All too often, healthcare, and mainstream media only references Black people as negative statistics, without providing context for why these inequities exist, or recognizing Black communities as knowledge keepers and leaders in creating a healthier future.
When Black communities are only depicted as negative statistics or deficits, it fuels racist assumptions and promotes the idea that individuals and communities are “broken” and need to be “saved”. This type of thinking is dangerous, because it assumes that solutions should come from the outside and ignores the assets that exist within communities. This thinking also renders the existence of Black Joy as episodic and reactionary instead of defiant and medicinal in the face of suffocatingly racist systems.
“If we are constantly and solitarily fed the narrative of Black and brown plight, the prophecy will have a clear path to self- fulfillment,” said Teron Buford, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. “Now, that’s not to say that it is unnecessary to work toward dismantling systems of oppression, because we should, but it’s also important to allow ourselves to see the breadth, beauty, and strength that accompanies Black and brown experiences. This is a vital first step that leads to a healthier perception of self and community and provides us with a roadmap to reframing and revaluing our cultural wealth.”
Investing in community-led solutions to racial and health inequities, creating greater understanding of how racism impacts health, and uplifting the voices of those most impacted by inequity are all central to Blue Cross’s work. Challenging bias and disrupting false narratives are also essential to advancing racial and health equity.
“For too long, healthcare has only defined our communities by deficits and negative health outcomes, without providing any real context for why these inequities exist or taking accountability for maintaining the status quo,” said Bukata Hayes, Vice President of Racial and Health Equity and Chief Equity Officer and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. “We recognize that communities most impacted by health inequities hold the solutions to the challenges they face and are a source of wisdom, strength, and abundance. To advance racial and health equity, we need to have those most impacted by health inequities guiding and advising the process, and continuously work to build trust within communities.”
Deficit-based narratives can reinforce policies and systems that perpetrate structural racism and result in continued inequities for marginalized communities. Additionally, there are serious mental health consequences when communities only see themselves portrayed as negative statistics. Deficit-based narratives put the blame on individuals, rather than addressing the systems and structures that contribute to racial and health inequities in our society.
Those who benefit from white privilege have a direct role to play in creating equitable change. “Privilege allows people from outside a community to avoid issues specific to that community,” said Teron Buford. “That very same privilege also places a burden on members of marginalized groups to fix systems that have been created to irreparably harm and hinder them.
We are working to proactively address implicit bias and simultaneously create an environment that heals and invites people to show up authentically. Our efforts and struggles are more aligned than some would have us believe. And once we recognize that we’re collectively more powerful when we walk shoulder-to-shoulder, there’s not a whole lot that can stand in our way.”
Shifting dominant narratives to focus on the collective strength, assets, and brilliance of Black communities is essential to creating a healthier and more just future. Blue Cross has started this journey, but there is still a long way to go. Collaboration and coordination across sectors are critical. So is listening, cultural humility, and working alongside communities to identify solutions. We believe that by leaning in to community with a much more humble posture, we can partner to arrive at a place and space that is more free, more liberated and more equitable.
This work has no end point and requires all of us to play a role in challenging deficit-based narratives and bias in our society. “We have never experienced a truly racially just existence,” said Bukata Hayes. “Things like becoming an antiracist organization and advancing racial and health equity are endeavors that will take years, even generations. The inequities and impacts of racism have been building for centuries. Hundreds of years of hardening won’t be undone with one chisel and one hammer—or in one quarter or calendar year.”