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J’Mag Karbeah

Assistant Professor, Division of Health Policy & Management; Research Advisor, Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity


What most excites you about the SPH Strategic Plan for Antiracism?

“What I’m most excited about is the explicit focus on antiracism. There have been a lot of initiatives focused broadly on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), so it’s easy to say, ‘We do DEI work.’ But when we’re thinking about the most just outcome, that requires being antiracist. It is not a quick checkbox, or something you can do 9-5. You can’t be antiracist while still having the same power structures, policies, and practices in place.

I am enthusiastic about the school taking on this charge and also putting justice at the forefront of the work being done. Lauren [Jones, Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion] and her team have done a fantastic job at centering justice and antiracism within all the work they’ve done as part of SPAR (Strategic Plan for Antiracism). And this plan is centered on measurable achievements.”


Using “commit” emphasizes a pledge to prioritize antiracist efforts in making SPH a more welcome, equitable, and just organization.

What do you see as your role in antiracism?

“I see antiracism as central in my position as a health-equity-focused, health services researcher. Core to my work is the publication, “Critical Race Theory, Race Equity, and Public Health: Toward Antiracism Praxis,” authored by Dr. Chandra Ford at UCLA and Dr. Collins Airhihenbuwa of Penn State. A key tenant of that framework is to name racism’s presence in all the work that you do. To me, antiracism and health equity is about recognizing racism as a structural determinant of health, and thinking about what policies and practices could help dismantle racism at all levels so that everyone can live healthy and fulfilling lives.”

Why do you think some U.S. states, cities, and counties have declared racism a public health crisis or emergency?

“I’m of two minds: one is cynical and one is practical. Cynically, it is not enough to declare racism a public health crisis. I don’t think we should give ourselves a huge pat on the back for being at a place where people who have lived experiences with racism and oppression have been for decades, if not centuries. 

But practically, this unifying sentiment is an opportunity to put words into action. The murder of George Floyd was the moment that a lot of folks decided, ‘This is my fight, too.’ They are realizing that they have a role to play. And these declarations mean that folks want to be held accountable. They might not know that’s what they’re communicating, but that’s what these declarations mean to the community. This is the call to be held accountable.”


We are “challenged” to accept that racism exists and to “challenge” it when we see it.

How are you challenging those around you?

J'Mag Karbeah
J’Mag Karbeah

“I am challenging those around me through my scholarship, which is focused on health inequities and how racism is operating in different spaces. My scholarship is challenging folks to see strengths and joy in racialized people and communities, not only deficiencies. When we see the strength and joy of the people themselves, then we can actually understand how our institutions make it difficult for them to thrive. It’s shifting the mindset from, ‘Why aren’t people engaging with these perfect systems?’ to ‘How can we improve our institutions so people who have marginalized identities can benefit from them?’ That’s a narrative change that is needed and can really be beneficial in the work that we do.”

What challenges do you face in conducting antiracist efforts?

“Antiracism is complex and does not fit neatly into boxes, so a challenge in conducting antiracist efforts is figuring out where to focus your attention. For example, a lot of the great work coming from my colleagues at CARHE focuses on how we measure structural racism–but how do we measure such a complex phenomenon? Consider the framework of the social ecological model: I am one person (individual), but I am influenced by my interpersonal connections (relationships), which are shaped by my community experience (community), which is influenced by my neighborhood and the institutions around me (societal), which are influenced by government policy and economic forces. So a challenge in antiracism work is figuring out what to focus on, and at what level or levels. The work is complex. There is so much to be done, and every single issue impacted by racism requires attention because every single form of racism has real impacts on the lives and health of racialized people.”


We have to be willing to “change” and shift our beliefs, attitudes, and actions toward equity and justice.

What impact do you think the school can have on racism?

“I think it would be disingenuous to say that we can only have a positive impact on racism. If we want to make a difference, we need to acknowledge how we’ve perpetuated racism–ways in which we’ve been exclusionary, or how our policies have kept doors shut, or moments we’ve been silent. If we stay grounded in that process of self-reflection and accountability, I think that we can make substantive contributions to change. A lot of those contributions would require re-evaluating where we put our resources—who are welcome at our school, whose research gets funded, and who is served by our work. Having a strategic plan focused on antiracism is helpful, and now we need folks to take actionable steps so that we can forge forward in a radically different way, together.”

What changes do you think the field of public health needs to make?

“Public health needs to consider what initiatives we fund, what research we conduct, and who benefits from those initiatives and research. Community is not just there when we want to recruit folks for a study. Racialized communities should be driving the work that we’re doing, and we need to give diverse voices the opportunities and funding necessary to lead research. 

I also think that there needs to be a lot of humility in our approaches. We need to make a lot more progress in regards to how we name, understand, and measure racism in public health. We haven’t always done things right, so we have to invest in the champions that will lead us to make lasting change.”

“Building Equity, Driving Justice: Commit | Challenge | Change” — ties all communications related to the SPH Strategic Plan for Antiracism together under one look and feel. The theme showcases our guiding principles, and it motivates and inspires. "Agents for Change" profiles support this theme and all interview questions are related to the action words, Commit, Challenge, Change, as described above.

Submit an idea for this profile series — either your own story, or one that inspires you from another SPH individual or group.

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