Hosted by Susan Grove

During his career as a pediatrician working in neonatal intensive care in Chicago, Dick David noticed that the babies born to Black women were smaller and more often premature. At that time, the medical field assumed that the underlying cause of different birth outcomes for Black and White women was genetic. In other words, that there was something wrong with the Black mother. This struck Dr. David not only as “not rigorous” science, but also “science” that was based in discriminatory and racist assumptions. So he paired up with an African American scientist and clinician to challenge this assumption. They eventually found that the group of Black women whose birth outcomes were similar to White women wasn’t those who were well educated or well off, rather it was those who hadn’t been born in America but had immigrated here. This lined up with ideas an epidemiologist colleague had discussed with Dick about how the political construct that surrounds us is a powerful force in our lives. Pointing out that it was not race but racism, and the stress it places on people of color, that explained worse health outcomes, their findings challenged the prevailing paradigm. At that time in the 1990s, it was difficult to get their findings published. Fast forward, and this is the paper Dr. David worked on that has been cited the most. 

Determining that the worse health outcomes he studied are attributable to the broad and systemic problem of racism in a society where everything is “color-coded” can feel overwhelming - how do we change that?  Yes, Dick says, to “do something is essential” with clarity that the challenges we face aren’t because individuals aren’t caring enough, but that the systems we are subject to enrich some and impoverish others. He’s been engaging in learning, teaching and activism on anti-racist and related issues for more than 30 years and offers us this important question to focus on: How do we challenge power relationships? Things are always changing. It can appear that change is going nowhere, but suddenly rapid change can occur, sometimes in the wake of tragic events that lead us to rethink what’s going on. And in times like these, “solidarity (not charity) is what we need.”   

Until his retirement from clinical work in 2016, Dr. David worked as an attending neonatologist and co-director of the neonatal intensive care unit at Stroger Hospital of Cook County in Chicago. His clinical work involved care for newborns from a low-income minority and immigrant population. His research for over 30 years focused on perinatal epidemiology and more specifically on the relation between social inequality – especially racism in its various forms – and birth outcomes. He currently teaches a course each fall on racism and health at the School of Public Health of the University of Illinois Chicago. In addition to his “day job” in academic medicine, he has been active in different organizations working for social justice. This includes a variety of things ranging from street protests opposing healthcare cuts or police violence to marches calling for immediate ceasefire in Gaza. He was instrumental in raising opposition to various wars inside the American Public Health Association where anti-war resolutions he sponsored became Association policy. When he retired, he moved to Poughkeepsie to be closer to his children and grandchildren.