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First Year Cleveland

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
Biomedical Research Building
11000 Cedar Avenue - 4th Floor Cleveland, OH 44106

Phone 216-368-4837
Home Solutions Reducing Racial Disparities Structural Racism

What is Structural Racism?

When talking about infant mortality, structural racism is commonly discussed as a main contributor. But what is it and what do we do about it?


Structural racism refers to a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity — often unknowingly. It exists within many health care organizations that expectant mothers visit, not because it is intentional, but because of systems that are already a part of our everyday society.

The problem with structural racism is that it creates barriers that limit opportunities for people of color, including access to prenatal health care, social services and other supportive programs which are critical to having healthy babies. When it isn’t addressed within an organization or system, the inequities continue to grow, creating an even larger racial divide.

At First Year Cleveland, we know that racial inequities play a critical role in the number of infant deaths in Cuyahoga County. Structural racism contributes to these racial inequities.

There are questions you can ask to identify areas of structural racism within your organization.

  • Are there ways that you limit access to your goods or services for people of color?
  • Does your organizational structure include adequate Hispanic and African American representation?
  • Do you create any barriers to employment for people of color?
  • Do you favor whites over others in your:
    • communications
    • policies and procedures
    • professional development opportunities
    • allocation of resources to programs, projects or personnel
  • Do you influence laws or decisions that isolate or unfairly target people of color?
  • Do you gather input from all populations to understand their needs and challenges?

Structural racism is often overlooked because we just don’t know we’re contributing to it. Knowing what structural racism is and developing solutions to overcome it will help us work toward awareness and progress within our own organizations, workplaces and lives.


For more information on structural racism, visit:

The Aspen Institute
The Urban Institute

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