Camara reflects on her road from Molecular Biology major at Wellesley to respected authority on the impacts of racism on the health and well-being of the nation.
My first reaction to the news that I had received a 2018 Wellesley Alumna Achievement Award was one of delight that my work had been recognized.
I have devoted much of my career to naming, measuring, and addressing the impacts of racism on the health and well-being of the nation. This might surprise many of our classmates, who knew me as more of a science nerd majoring in Molecular Biology who spent most of our senior year in the lab or at the electron microscope. I never studied Political Science, or Sociology, or Anthropology. But my career has expanded from a focus on intracellular forms and processes to a concern with larger and larger units of aggregation and organization and power: from molecular biology (Wellesley) to medicine (Stanford) to epidemiology (Johns Hopkins) to broader public health (Harvard) to broader public policy (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). I recognized that treating individuals did not fix the conditions which were making them sick; that identifying those conditions did not necessarily result in policies to fix the conditions; and that promulgating policies did not necessarily result in equitable implementation of those policies. I recognize that the next level of power is in politics, which is about prioritization of issues and distribution of resources, and I am actually toying with the idea of entering that fray.
During my year as President of the American Public Health Association (2015-2016), I traveled to 40 states and internationally sharing tools for a National Campaign Against Racism. I have developed many allegories on “race” and racism which illuminate topics which are otherwise difficult for many Americans to understand or discuss. See my 2014 TEDx Emory talk for four of those allegories (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNhcY6fTyBM).
As delighted as I am to receive a 2018 Wellesley Alumna Achievement Award, I also want folks to know that I am not done yet! Racism is a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks (which is what we call “race”), that unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities, unfairly advantages other individuals and communities, and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources. I will continue to devote my intellect, creativity, energy, passion, vision, fearlessness, insight, and kindness to the three tasks necessary for a National Campaign Against Racism: naming racism, asking “How is racism operating here?”, and organizing and strategizing to act. I hope to engage many of you, my Wellesley classmates, in that effort!