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Policy Brief Mechanisms for Advancing Public HealthRacism as a Public Health Crisis

An Assessment of the Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping

January 25, 2021


On September 22, 2020, the President issued an Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping (the “Order”). Its stated goals are to promote unity and to “combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping” within the federal workforce. It purports to do so by defining and restricting the use of federal resources on teaching “divisive concepts.” The Order is at odds with established public health law principles pertaining to health equity.

The Order is a solution in search of a problem that creates a chilling effect on diversity trainings essential to building a healthy and equitable society. There is wide consensus that racism is a social determinant of health. This includes individual racism and systemic racism reflected in social and institutional structures that produce consistent and identifiable disparities among certain racial demographics, with Black people and Latinos/as frequently fairing worse on a variety of metrics. Although the emergence of COVID-19 may have highlighted this reality, there is still much to be taken-in, discussed, reflected upon, and learned so that we can create more equitable communities. The Order, however, makes standard trainings on race and racism seem suspect—even creating a hotline to report federal contractors who “utilize trainings” that include alleged divisive concepts.

This assessment uses a public health lens to highlight four fundamental shortcomings of the Order: (1) it contradicts core public health findings; (2) it promotes a narrative that portrays diversity trainings that address racism as dangerous; (3) it is ahistorical; and (4) is so vague that it has a foreseeable chilling effect on legitimate trainings.