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Rooted in Racism: An Analysis of Health Disparities in Tennessee

Nashville, Tenn.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn more widespread attention to the deep chasm that exists between people of color and White people in this country. Black and Hispanic people are three times as likely to be infected and twice as likely to die, yet state officials continue to block the expansion of federal Medicaid coverage to those low-wage, front line workers who are most at risk. The nonprofit Tennessee Justice Center authored a policy brief that explains how systemic racism dating back to the Civil War and continuing today has impacted our healthcare system and led to health disparities. One key factor is access to health care, and the refusal to expand Medicaid by mostly Southern states, including Tennessee, is perpetuating racial inequities.

Charlane Oliver, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of The Equity Alliance, said: “Based on lived experience, people of color have always known that systemic barriers deprive them of opportunities to achieve health and prosperity, keeping equity out of reach. This paper explains how racist policies and practices are part of the bedrock of our healthcare system and drive health disparities. If Tennessee’s leaders care about ensuring public health, protecting jobs, and helping all communities thrive, they should see the COVID-19 pandemic as a wake-up call and immediately expand Medicaid to provide access to health care for low-income, uninsured Tennesseans, who are disproportionately Black and Hispanic.”


The Tennessee Justice Center (TJC) is a non-profit public interest law and advocacy firm serving families in Tennessee. It gives priority to policy issues and civil cases in which the most basic necessities of life are at stake and where advocacy can benefit needy families statewide. TJC works to empower its clients by holding government accountable for its policies and actions.

TJC was established in 1996 and is located at 211 Seventh Avenue, North, Nashville, TN. For additional information about the Tennessee Justice Center and its services, call 615-255-0331.