Employees at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are calling for the federal agency to address what they say are “ongoing and recurring acts of racism and discrimination” against its Black employees, NPR reported. More than 1,000 CDC employees signed a letter to director Robert Redfield describing a “pervasive and toxic culture of racial aggressions.”
“In light of the recent calls for justice across this country and around the world, we, as dedicated public health professionals, can no longer stay silent to the widespread acts of racism and discrimination within CDC that are, in fact, undermining the agency’s core mission,” the letter reads, according to NPR, which obtained a copy. The letter notes that Black employees are only 10 percent of CDC’s leadership.
In addition to diversifying the agency’s leadership, the employees want the CDC to declare racism a public health crisis in the US. The letter opens by invoking the devastating and disproportionate toll the pandemic has taken on Black and brown communities in the US, along with the recent killings of Black people, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The letter notes that: “These are just the most recent and tragic of the long-festering disease of racial discrimination and oppression in the United States.”
The letter is the latest in a long string of protests and calls for the US to reckon with its legacy of racial injustice. Last month, Black scientists and students shared experiences of discrimination in academia by using the Twitter hashtag #BlackintheIvory. They detailed stories of being harassed and marginalized in the ivory towers of research institutions and universities.
Researchers at the CDC have had similar experiences according to the letter obtained by NPR. The letter says that Black CDC employees “routinely experience bullying, excessive criticism, hostility, implicit bias and overt racism from white colleagues with little recourse.”
The CDC has also been criticized for its public shortcomings in dealing with racial disparities. In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the CDC was widely criticized for its failure to break out COVID-19 data by racial groups. More recent data has shown Black Americans have been infected with and died from the virus at significantly higher rates than white Americans. Health experts say this points to underlying socioeconomic failures that lead to poor health outcomes for Black Americans.
The CDC said in a statement that Redfield had received and replied to the employees’ letter. “CDC is committed to fostering a fair, equitable, and inclusive environment in which staff can openly share their concerns with agency leadership.”