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Racism declared 'public health issue' in Sacramento County

During the same meeting where the resolution was declared, Dr. Peter Beilenson referred to Asian Americans as "yellow folks."

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors declared racism as a public health issue Tuesday but not without controversy.

The resolution "pledges to promote racial equity while shaping policies, appropriating resources, implementing programs, and issuing directives," the county said in a press release

District 1 Supervisor and Board Chair Phil Serna, who presented the resolution, said Sacramentans should have the opportunity to live their lives free from systemic racism.

"Research has demonstrated that racism adversely impacts the physical and mental health of people of color. The resolution we passed today acknowledges Sacramento County’s commitment to face this crisis head-on through fair and just governance and service delivery," Serna said.

During the same meeting where the resolution was passed, Sacramento County Health Director Dr. Peter Beilenson referred to Asian Americans as "yellow folks."

Speaking in favor of the resolution, Beilenson said, "this is a major area of interest from public health in general, and it's it's a crucial thing that we need to be doing to address the issues of African American and brown and yellow folks in our country as well as the white folks."

Timothy Fong, a professor of Ethnic Studies at Sacramento State, explained to ABC10 why it is problematic to refer to Asian Americans as "yellow."   

"The terms has been used very negatively against Asian people, historically," Fong said.

Asian American advocates say referring to Asians and Asian Americans as "yellow" is considered both outdated and tied to anti-Asian sentiments and racist laws in the early 1900s. Plus, Fong said, it ties in to a more modern problem.

"I think what was particularly difficult about the comment today, is the fact of the whole context of racial antagonism, particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the uses of these slurs," Fong said, citing anti-Asian sentiments stoked by coronavirus fears.

Beilenson told ABC10 his comment during the board of supervisors meeting was wrong. 

"I'm really sorry for that,"  Beilenson said. "I will obviously make sure in the future to talk about Asian Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders, which is what I normally do." 

Fong said the important thing is Beilenson apologized for his comment.

Supervisors passed the resolution on a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Sue Frost casting the lone 'no.'

The resolution will:

  • ensure the consistent collection, analysis, and reporting of demographic, socioeconomic, and public health data to measure progress toward eliminating racial inequities
  • design, develop and deploy community-based alternatives to prevent trauma and eliminate harm associated with racial inequity
  • advocate for local, state, and federal policies that improve health and wellness in communities of color and support legislation that advances racial equity

The resolution will also give the board the chance to create a Sacramento County Racial Equity Policy Cabinet. The cabinet would issue reports to the board of supervisors and be responsible for promoting coordination, cooperation, and collaboration across county departments and the community to promote racial equity. 

Read more from ABC10

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