Where do we go from here? MLK Health Sciences Lecture talks body politics and racial empowerment

January 18, 2021  //  FOUND IN: News, ,

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 55 years ago at a Chicago press conference in connection with an annual meeting of the Medical Committee for Human Rights

Today, Monique Butler, M.D., M.B.A., a U-M Kinesiology alumna and chief medical officer for Swedish Medical Center in Denver, unpacked health inequality and inequity in a keynote lecture delivered as part of the organization’s Martin Luther King Day celebration.


Her talk was entitled, “Where Do We Go from Here? Body Politics and Movement Toward Racial Empowerment.”

It was given as part of the 31st annual MLK Health Sciences symposium, which this year was held virtually and hosted by the School of Kinesiology.

Butler’s talk centered on body politics and its contribution to health disparities in communities of color.

“Body politics are the practices and policies through which powers of society regulate the human body,” Butler said. “Some of the devastating social norms that exist have a negative impact on our health. One, is red-lining,” or the systematic denial of various services or goods by raising prices and other tactics.

“Another is residential segregation and the third one, I believe, is police brutality.”

The negative effects of body politics

So what, exactly, does “body politics” mean?

Body politics is the attribution of physical features — skin tone, body type, etc. — to the social, ethical and moral characteristics of an individual or population. For example, body politics are commonly seen as stereotypes such as the idea that people of certain nationalities are “built” for specific types of labor.

Unfortunately, body politics based on race can further perpetuate racist ideologies and discriminatory practices.

Butler’s lecture expounded on how body politics based on race (along with other intersecting elements such as sex, gender, sexuality, age, social class, ability, etc.) have adversely affected the overall health and wellness of bodies of color, specifically Black bodies — impacting their abilities, opportunities, access, care/treatment and the overall nature of their lived experiences.

“I want to empower you to have a call to action — a personal responsibility,” Butler said to those who watched the virtual lecture. “How can we be empowered to take great care of ourselves, and to put self-care front of mind?”

Her call to action encouraged listeners to implement five actions:

  • Get vaccinated for COVID-19.
  • Remember the 3W’s (wear your mask, wash your hands and watch your distance).
  • Move more (incorporate at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week) and eat five fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Breathe.
  • Speak up! Call out social injustices where they exist.

The MLK Health Sciences Lecture in conjunction with the university’s annual symposium held this morning at 10 a.m. — with keynote speaker Gloria House, Ph.D. — were only two of the many events being held in commemoration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A full list of events, lectures, and panel discussions being held this week can be found here.