Employees of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are calling on the federal agency to consider what they believe to be “persistent and recurring racist and discriminatory acts” against its black workers, NPR reported. More than 1,000 CDC employees signed a letter to Director Robert Redfield describing an “ubiquitous and toxic culture of racial aggression.”
“In light of the recent calls for justice in this country and around the world, we, as dedicated health professionals, can no longer remain silent about the widespread forms of racism and discrimination within CDC that in fact undermine the core mission of the service.” said the letter, according to NPR, which has obtained a copy, saying that black workers are only 10 percent of CDC’s leadership.
In addition to diversifying the agency’s leadership, workers want the CDC to declare racism a public health crisis in the U.S. The letter opens calling on the devastating and disproportionate toll the pandemic has taken on black and brown communities in the US, along with the recent murders of black people, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The letter notes that, “These are just the most recent and tragic of the long-standing disease of racial discrimination and oppression in the United States.”
The letter is the latest in a long series of protests and calls on the US to take into account their legacy of racial injustice. Last month, black scientists and students shared experiences of discrimination in science by using the Twitter hashtag #BlackintheIvory. In the ivory towers of research institutions and universities, they told stories of harassment and marginalization.
Researchers at the CDC have had similar experiences, according to NPR’s letter. The letter states that Black CDC employees “routinely experience bullying, excessive criticism, hostility, implied bias, and overt racism from white colleagues with little story.”
The CDC has also been criticized for its public shortcomings in addressing racial differences. In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the CDC was widely criticized for failing to disseminate COVID-19 data through racial groups. More recent data has shown that black Americans are infected with and died of the virus significantly higher rates than white Americans. Health experts say this points to underlying socio-economic failures leading to poor health outcomes for black Americans.
The CDC said in an emailed statement The edge that Redfield had received and replied to the workers’ letter. “CDC is committed to promoting a fair, just and inclusive environment in which employees can openly share their concerns with agency leadership.”
Update July 13, 5:19 PM ET: CDC statement added.