Fighting for Social Justice in Healthcare, with NY State Commissioner of Health Dr. Mary Bassett

Episode Summary:

In the opening for the book The Pandemic Divide, Dr. Mary Bassett discusses the vast racial and ethnic inequities that have been exposed by the COVID pandemic. She explains that these inequities are not due to any biological reasons, but rather are the result of societal failures. She goes on to discuss the topics of structural and systemic racism, as well as white supremacy, and how they contribute to The Pandemic Divide.

In the conversation, the Bassett discusses how the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd brought the idea of structural racism to the forefront for many people in the United States. The speaker explains that structural racism is the idea that racism is embedded in all of our institutions, and that the ideology of white supremacy underlies this.

Bassett highlights three important messages from her book: the policy impact of white supremacy causing excess exposure to COVID among communities of color, the importance of social determinants of health, and the need for structural change to address health disparities.

Topics Discussed in this Episode:

  • The Impact of Structural Racism and White Supremacy in the United States
  • COVID-19 Risk Factors in the Black and Latinx Communities
  • COVID-19 and Racial Inequities
  • The Impact of White Supremacy on American Health
  • The Importance of Research in the Fight Against Racism
  • The Importance of Data and Speaking Out to Address Racial Disparities

Resources Mentioned in this episode:

Episode transcript:

  • Full episode transcript can be found here


  • The research matters. There may be times when people who do research and people who consume it think that it’s sort of armchair activity, but we need these data to see where we are and to assess.
  • VOTE!
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about what was revealed to us by the pandemic about inequality, and how these divisions are rooted in our history. Talk about it.

MARY T. BASSETT is health commissioner of the New York State Department of Health. She was previously director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights and FXB Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights in the Department of Social and Behavioral Science at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. In her career spent promoting health equity and social justice throughout academia, government, and not-for- profit work, Dr. Bassett has earned numerous awards and accolades, including the Frank A. Calderone Prize in Public Health, a Kenneth A. Forde Lifetime Achievement Award from Columbia University, a Victoria J. Mastrobuono Award for Women’s Health, and the National Organization for Women’s Champion of Public Health Award. She received her mph from the University of Washington and her MD from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons (serving her residency at Harlem Hospital).