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Two Poems for Poetic Health Justice: Poetry as Praxis for an Antiracist and Decolonized Future of ‘Radical Possibility’


Health research remains ensconced in a heavily positivist, reductionist, settler-colonial, racial-capitalist “ritual” of knowledge extractivism and expropriation wherein credentialed researchers mine marginalized communities for data to (re)package and (re)distribute as their (our) own knowledge. Much of this work has focused on racial health inequities while, curiously, leaving unexamined matters of positionality, epistemic equity, and procedural justice in the production and curation of knowledges/narratives about racialized subjects (here, perhaps better described as “objects”). In the US, this production is dominated and curated mostly by White scholars—from tenure-track faculty positions, to funding review panels, to editorial boards, to peer-review bodies. In short, the public/medical health knowledge production and curation enterprise is structurally racist, and it is time that we confront the inherent contradictions of a health equity discourse that fails to interrogate the racialized power dynamics that animate it. Moreover, it is time that we remix the canon and forge a future health research capable of doing our health narratives epistemic—and poetic—justice. 

In this spirit, social epidemiologist and poet Professor Ryan Petteway draws from social epidemiology, critical, critical race, Black feminist, and decolonizing theory literatures to engage poetry as a site of “radical openness and possibility” (hooks)—an inclusive space of resistance for the production of counternarratives within discourse of health (in)equity. 

Dr. Petteway presented two poems at the SIREN 2022 National Research Meeting: Racial Health Equity in Social Care. “Something, Something, Something by Race, 2021” and “RELATIVES//Risks” enact public health critical race praxis (Ford & Airhihenbuwa) principles of “voice” and “disciplinary self-critique” as mode of resistance to counter the epistemic violence of our structurally racist and racial-capitalist health inequities research enterprise. In each poem, Petteway foregrounds considerations of epistemic justice/oppression, data (in)justice, and narrative power—illustrating poetry as praxis to challenge public health’s history of violence against our bodies, its (re)colonization of our lives, and its (a)political silence on matters of epistemic and social injustice. These works suggest the epistemological, ethical, and material imperative of remixing/reimagining health knowledge production, expression, and curation practices to more fully—and unapologetically—"center the margins,” with poetry a necessary format of health equity discourse for resistance and healing.


"something something something by race, 2021" Available here.

"RELATIVES//Risks" Available here.