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Embrace Discomfort to Achieve Health Equity

By Joanne Lee on April 27th, 2016

To “embrace difference to achieve health equity,” we must pay attention to the various factors that converge in individual communities and uniquely impact the people that live within them. Doing this calls us to be curious about differences, intentional about widening our perspectives, and perceptive about interconnections between health and other complex social issues like politics, race, money, and power.

Unless we intentionally draw from exposures outside our usual spheres or comfort zones, we will fail to see, let alone understand, differing perspectives. My desire to support health equity in communities pushes me to explore beyond my own comfort zone. It calls me to examine controversial issues and points of view, and to ask myself and others, “How is this ultimately affecting health equity in our communities?

There is no lack of public dialogue about health equity. The following pieces have been particularly thought-provoking for me and have informed how I think and inquire about factors that influence healthy communities. This is not a traditional resource list shared with the intention of providing a solution or resolution. Perhaps these will instead raise questions, unsettle thinking, and spark conversations that, while uncomfortable, are necessary. For these reasons, I hope you will invest time to explore these as new opportunities for us to meet “at the intersection of human connection and equity.”

Truth and Power: #BlackLivesMatter: Terms like “transformation,” “movements,” and “advocacy” are often used to describe community change approaches. Social media can promote healthy community programs and initiatives, and we encourage partnerships between residents, the government, and private sectors. When and in what ways do these terms and approaches clash? Full episode.

American-Muslim Doctor Reflects on Bigotry at Some Top Hospitals, and Beyond: This narrative provides a personal perspective about how ethnic, religious, and gender stereotypes can take precedence over professional and income status. It’s a reminder that health-focused institutions are not immune to inequities. What other unspoken professional practices and systems might be derailing achievement of health equity?

When is it OK to Profit from Cooking Other Cultures’ Food?: This question served as a conversation-starter about food, race, acculturation, and power through profit. I read the article through my lens of growing up in Hawai’i, a “melting pot” of Asian and Pacific Island cultures and cuisines. How can we best support cross-cultural sharing and learning in ways that preserve authenticity? Where is the line between imitation being a “sincere form of flattery” and a form of exploitation?

Why Communities of Color are Getting Frustrated with Collective Impact is a detailed analysis of the author’s experience with Collective Impact. It highlights the ways in which people and communities most affected by health inequities may be disempowered even when the efforts of coalitions are well-intentioned. How might we hold community coalitions accountable and ensure that their structures authentically support, rather than control, resident-led community transformation?

Joanne Lee

Senior Project Director

Adventurous strategist, cross-cultural explorer, and human and animal welfare champion.