Klamath Tribe members building a fire on their land

Racism is making us sick

All Oregonians don’t have the same opportunity to lead a long, healthy life. Some communities of color are more likely to develop chronic diseases and die at younger ages. Genetics are not the major driver of these disparities. And the trends are too widespread to be blamed on personal choices.


Black mother touching her pregnant stomach with her toddler daughter, sitting on couch inside

So why do some people have a better chance at a healthy life than others? Our places, and the social, economic and environmental forces that shape them, are huge factors. Included among these powerful forces: Bias, discrimination and systemic racism. Historically and still today in Oregon, people simply aren’t treated the same way.

Older and younger Hispanic men pointing at a computer inside at a warehouse

Few of us would say our lives have been easy or obstacle-free. But some people face extra barriers to a healthy life because of how society reacts to their race or ethnicity. These barriers reflect deep-rooted, complex issues in our culture and history. Dismantling them won’t happen overnight. But it can happen, when Oregonians work together to ensure that our communities make a healthy life available to everyone.



  • Social conditions

    Black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related issues. Researchers say a key factor may be the chronic stress of living with racial discrimination.

    Education, income,
    discrimination and structural
    racism are among the social conditions that can limit or
    expand a person’s ability to live a healthy life.

    Three people standing on boxes trying to grab apples from a tree. First person is the tallest with the shortest box. Second person is at middle length with the middle length box. Third person is at the shortest length with the highest box. All three people are able to grab apples from the tree.
  • Physical settings

    When families are denied housing except for apartments in run-down buildings or those near traffic-heavy roadways, their children are at higher risk for asthma.

    The locations where we live,
    work, learn, play or age, such as
    our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, parks,
    senior centers and public spaces, help determine how healthy we
    can be.

    A neighborhood showing a house next to an apartment building next to an office building.
  • Industry practices

    For decades, the tobacco industry targeted Latinos and African Americans with excessive marketing. These groups continue to suffer from tobacco-related diseases at higher rates than others.

    Companies sell things—they always have. But today, kids are surrounded by marketing that pushes harmful products, while low-income adults and communities of color are specifically targeted.

    An outdoor billboard showing a sugary drink advertisement for
  • People power

    Mudbone Grown works to rectify Oregon’s historical wrong of denying Black people the right to own land, and to build family wealth and health, by providing them with pathways to farming.

    Governments, communities and voters can change policies and environments in ways that make
    it easier or harder to make healthy choices.

    A group of diverse people speaking up at a forum


  • Open Video Modal

    health care Speaker 1:
    This land was taken from us. It’s like having a wife that was stolen from me, and you see her with somebody else walking, and she looks and she smiles and she still gives you love whenever you’re out there, and in your heart you feel like she’s still yours. But she was stolen.

    Monica YellowOwl:
    Historical trauma has really bred a ground for disruption completely of a family system, of a parent role, of what safety looks like. Even has changed what our social norms are. When termination happened and the lands were liquidated, and members were paid out and then no longer considered a federally recognized Native American, so where did we go to lean on services? We went into the community to access health care services now, or housing assistance, or whatever it might be.

    Monica YellowOwl:
    I feel like our people have so many stories of what life was like during that time. The amount of racism that they went up against, the amount of inequity. There was a belief, I think that ruminated around here that you had everything, and look, you just sold it away. And now you want to depend on our resources and our services and bog our systems down. This could have all been avoided. And what most people don’t understand is that termination wasn’t a choice of the Klamath tribes, that this was a federal policy placed upon them, and so we had a large period of time where our people were hurting, and they were hurting in really harsh ways.

    Monica YellowOwl:
    In this day and age, we see the fallout of that exact thing. Our adverse childhood experience rates are significantly higher than the state average. We see tribal members come through the doors of our behavioral health clinic. For almost everybody that walks through that door, they have lost a significant amount of family members. They have turned to alcohol and drugs as a way to cope. We do offer both Western and cultural relevant services to them.

    Monica YellowOwl:
    I think identity is one of the most important areas that we focus on, is getting people to understand that you have a place and a space within this tribe, that there is a responsibility that can give value to your life.

    Monica YellowOwl:
    Fire, I think, has always been a big part of who we are, whether it was just subsistence and to survive, or that burning spirit that you have inside of yourself, that there is a belief that you always have to be feeding that spirit just like a fire. You always have to keep it burning. As a behavioral health program, we have to think in those terms, in those traditional ways of thinking. We have to know that one, a fire exists, that we’re responsible for continually kindling it.

    Monica YellowOwl:
    We don’t always want to be seen as the traumatized Indians. We want to be seen as resilient Indians, powerful people connected to our homeland, practicing our traditions and our cultures, separating ourselves apart from just the norm, and being very concrete in who we are as tribal people.

    Speaker 1:
    Place matters because it affects us every day. How could you not walk and see your love being controlled by somebody else, and it not affect you every day? You restore that relationship, and you restore health.

    Native Americans know how place affects health

    In 1954, the U.S. government took away the Klamath Tribes’ land in southern Oregon. This traumatic loss and a history of being discriminated against are at the root of health challenges that affect tribal members at higher rates than other ethnic and racial groups. The tribe is working to restore their connection to the land in order to improve their health.

  • Open Video Modal

    Speaker 1:
    All right. I’m rolling.

    Speaker 2:

    Speaker 1:

    Speaker 2:

    Speaker 1:

    Speaker 3:
    I’m ready.

    Speaker 1:
    Okay. Let’s do it.

    DJ Simpson:
    All right. I live north of Portlandia. IFC doesn’t film where I’m at. If Portland’s neighborhoods were represented by elementary children, I’m the quiet kid in the back, the one you know nothing about while all your attention is drawn to the kid who’s always opening his mouth, but I guess for a good reason. We’re not perfect beings, so I guess that makes us even. You see, I’m just one of the many who lives in the pocket of Portland that is considered not so friendly. I see pieces of priority, but it is often portrayed that minorities see that as a minority, too.

    I think it’s silly people shoot at each other over the color red and blue or over revenue. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we’re all fed up, too. Am I right? With that being said, how do you feel about a officer taking an innocent man’s life? Without forming opinions, I know everybody has their own two cents on someone like Darren Wilson. See, civilians against police? Those might as well be gangs because when you have a weapon, it’s where you choose to aim. Is the aim to protect us or to reject us?

    You represent us. We represent you. Each drop of water is significant in the pool. Brother Cornel West says, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public. So tell me, what do you see? Is the love scattered all over, wandering free, or is it stuck inside the house and afraid to leave? Mr. Mayor, you represent the city. Whether the population is 1 million people or 50, I am one of those people. We are some of those people. So I ask, if Portland’s neighborhoods are represented by kids, every neighborhood on the map, do you notice the quiet kid in the back?

    D.J. Simpson’s view from North of Portlandia

    As a senior at De La Salle North Catholic High School, 18-year-old D.J. Simpson captivated an audience that included Portland’s mayor and police chief with his spoken word piece “North of Portlandia.” In this video, he asks viewers to consider the students and adults who live in the part of Portland not shown on TV, the part “you know nothing about.”

  • Open Video Modal

    Gustavo Gutierrez-Gomez:
    My opinion, a vibrant community, it’s all of us, it’s the people in it. I think that’s what creates a community, the sense of belonging, you belong no matter where you came from or where your parents or your grandparents came from, the sense of belonging. And I think you’ll find that in here, in Woodburn. Woodburn is the future. Latino population is the one that’s growing the most, the highest in the United States.

    Gustavo Gutierrez-Gomez:
    So we’ve already … attained a high level of Latino population in a very short time, and I think a lot of the systems were not ready for it. A lot of people might live under stress, and the stress could be because of the barriers, barriers for language, culture, education. If you cannot communicate your needs, as an individual, I just don’t see how you can be healthy. If we try to help them in some of the needs, they wouldn’t know how to take advantage of the help yet, because they don’t know that we’re listening.

    Gustavo Gutierrez-Gomez:
    So I thought to myself, we have to build trust, but how? And the radio, so far, has been the key because it’s on their time. They’re using their hands, a lot of these people are labor workers and they can listen to the radio, then they will empathize with some of the things that we bring forward and then they get the information.

    Gustavo Gutierrez-Gomez:
    I want them to feel connected to their community, I want them to feel welcome and I want them to feel they have a space where they can trust our information and they can be part of the conversation. The job that I have, it’s about telling people, basically, what their rights are and how to enforce those rights, because that is my job, my job is to help to break those barriers.

    Gustavo Gutierrez-Gomez:
    Basically, having access to everything that everybody else has access to, it will allow you to have a very good quality of life. The only thing you have to do is go and make sure that you have a voice, and that’s for everyone. As far as I know, as long as you live in the community, your voice should be heard.

    How Woodburn, Oregon is looking to the future

    Woodburn is nearly 60 percent Latino. But the city hasn’t kept up with its changing population, says Gustavo Gutierrez Gomez, and Latinos are less likely to have access to the resources they need to be healthy. Gustavo works to build bridges among Woodburn residents and uses his radio show to engage and educate Latino listeners.

  • Open Video Modal

    The therapist holds up inkblots. The first one looks like hands. Looks like my hands? Looks like my hands covered in blood? I tell her it’s not possible. There has to be some mistake. I didn’t do this. I’m not even related to them, so why can’t I find bleach strong enough to get this off my hands?

    My therapist gives me a number to call. She says I can resolve the weight for my conscience. You have reached the White Privilege Incorporated headquarters at our locations everywhere in America. Have you heard about our products? Now for only the price of being born white, you can gain an access pass to anywhere in America from pools to candy shops to street corners, and not be considered a criminal even though nearly every school shooter shares your skin color.

    Here at White Privilege Incorporated, we can help you cope with the immense weight on your shoulders caused by the gold brick strapped to your back since your birth by transferring them into Bitcoin. That way you don’t ever have to acknowledge their existence. And if you invest all your earnings into this product, we’ll even throw in a complimentary blindfold that you can put on whenever you see a man of color being harassed in a grocery store or when a video of police brutality pops up onto your Facebook feed and makes you feel just a little bit uncomfortable with reality. Don’t worry, you could wear this product forever and never notice the difference.

    Here at White Privilege Incorporated, we can help you make the most out of that 400-year head start you’ve been given. Don’t worry if you’re not directly related to any colonizers. As long as you look enough like them, you can access the fruits of their labor. Here at White Privilege Incorporated, we give you the choice of the world’s strongest bleach to wash the blood from the tools they’ve given you. It will be easier to use them when your work gloves aren’t stained all the time. With our help, you too can learn to pull yourself up by the bootstraps that your ancestors stole from everyone else.

    Here at White Privilege Incorporated, you never have to worry about your membership expiring. It’s a lifetime guarantee for a product you can use anywhere in America. Don’t waste it. Now, would you like to place your order?

    My therapist looks at me. How did the call go, she asks. My ancestors placed the order for me without my consent. My therapist holds up the second ink blot. I see hands, white hands sticking into a Black man’s neck. He’s screaming, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” 11 times before he does not have another breath left in his lungs to tell his babies how much he loves them. I look down at my hands. I feel the presence of my breath and then I realized that even though they ought to, these feelings do not come with my order from White Privilege Incorporated.

    How being white affects your health

    At Portland’s Lincoln High School, Maia was asked by a teacher to think about how race had affected her life. She responded with “White Privilege Hotline,” a satirical poem that grapples with the ways that privilege has benefited her and harmed others. Her performance earned her fourth place in Portland’s “Verselandia!” slam poetry competition.

  • Open Video Modal

    Scott Kalama:
    My people. We come from mother earth get back to your roots, get back to your roots. My people, we come from mother earth. Get back to your roots, get back to your roots. My people, we come from mother earth. Get back to your roots, get back to your roots. My people, we come from mother earth. Get back to your roots, get back to your roots. My people. All I want is fresh food fresh Freddy’s fresh fruit is that too much to ask for apparently so everything has GMO junk your modified is a no-go why is the good real real hard to find just a fresh veggies new food local store like it’s food for thought like Omega-3s has your body appliance a more brain power place I can ease my healthy mind. My goal in life is to be healthy not wealthy because real wealth comes from good health. Be active, exercise your muscles, get your vitamins and minerals. Each healthy choice is a piece to the puzzle. They say garbage in garbage out with no spirits only traditional leaves smoke care in my prayers to the heavens. Blessings and lessons. My people. We come from mother earth get back to your roots, get back to your roots. My people, we come from mother earth. Get back to your roots, get back to your roots. My people. We come from mother earth get back to your roots, get back to your roots. My people.

    No sugar, use honey grow your own crops. Don’t worry about money no sweets only fresh veggies and fresh fruit whole wheat life is a blessing. It’s beautiful so eat what comes from the ground it’s natural either from the old school my household nutritional foods venison huckleberry pies and roots. My people. We come from mother earth so hit the sidewalks enjoy the parks get back to your roots. Drink water this ain’t a glass a day to keep the doctors away. Hydrate your mind body and soul. My people come from mother earth get back to your roots get back to your roots. Uplift the youth, uplift the youth. My people. Get back to your roots. My people. Need to get healthy, need to exercise, need to do all that. Eat good, eat right. Gotta get back to our roots. Come on you guys. Let’s live healthy.

    Urging Native Americans to “get back to your roots”

    Scott Kalama is a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. He lives on the Warm Springs reservation in central Oregon. In his rap “My People,” he reminds other tribal members that “we come from Mother Earth” and encourages them to remember the healthy ways of eating, moving and living that historically were a huge part of their culture.

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Whether you have one minute or a full day, each of us has a role to play in making sure all Oregonians have the opportunity for a healthy life.

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Stories show how our place in the world shapes our health. Share the Klamath Tribes’ efforts to overcome health challenges rooted in discrimination and loss.

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Statistics prove how place matters to the health of communities. Download and share web-friendly facts about racism and health.

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Dozens of organizations are working to promote healthy and inclusive multi-ethnic communities, including the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization.

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Key factors shape the health of communities, but they aren’t easy to see. These PowerPoint slides reveal how racism affects the health of Oregonians.

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