Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is declaring racism a public health crisis and pursuing initiatives to “eradicate and prevent discrimination and racial inequity” — including making all state employees undergo “implicit bias training,” her office announced Wednesday.
“Implicit, unconscious bias exists within each of us, and as public servants we have a duty to understand how our bias can impact the lives of others,” the Democrat said in a statement. “I am committed to leading by example and making sure state government is a model for equality, understanding, and fairness.”
“We have a lot of work to do to eradicate the systemic racism that Black Americans have faced for generations,” Whitmer said at a news conference updating the public on the COVID-19 pandemic. “That’s going to take time.”
Black people account for 39% of Michigan’s nearly 6,500 confirmed and probable deaths related to COVID-19 despite making up 14% of the population. In cases where race and ethnicity are known, the infection rate among Black residents is 14,703 per 1 million, compared with 4,160 for white residents.
As part of an executive order signed Wednesday, Whitmer is also installing a Black Leadership Advisory Council with a broad mandate for recommending state policies. In a press release, Whitmer’s office identified several Council functions, such as identifying gaps in state law that “perpetuate inequities,” promoting legislation to remedy Michigan’s “structural inequities,” serving as a resource “to benefit and advance the interests of the Black community,” and “[p]romoting the cultural arts in the Black community.”
“These past several months have been difficult for all of us, but they have been especially tough for Black and Brown people who for generations have battled the harms caused by a system steeped in persistent inequalities,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II said in a statement.
“These are the same inequities that have motivated so many Americans of every background to confront the legacy of systemic racism that has been a stain on our state and nation from the beginning.”
Gilchrist indicated the public health declaration was long overdue and a critical step in restoring racial justice.
“That is why, today, we take the much-needed and long-overdue step of recognizing racism as a public health crisis. It is only after we have fully defined the injustice that we can begin to take steps to replace it with a greater system of justice that enables all Michiganders to pursue their fullest dreams and potential,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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