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Watch Professor Matiangai Sirleaf's talk here


As part of a range of activities for Black History Month, the Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies (CERS) was delighted to welcome guest speaker Professor Matiangai Sirleaf, University of Maryland (USA) to present a talk on: ‘COVID-19 & the Racial Valuation of Diseases’

Speaker: Professor Matiangai Sirleaf, University of Maryland (USA)
Title: 'COVID-19 and the Racial Valuation of Diseases'
Date: 21 October 2021, 3-4.15pm (UK time)

Welcome: Dr Ipek Demir

Chair: Dr Abel Ugba

WATCH the recording here.

Bio: Matiangai Sirleaf is the Nathan Patz Professor of Law at the University of Maryland School of Law. She writes and teaches in the areas of global public health law, public international law and international human rights law amongst others. She previously served as an associate professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, as an assistant professor of law at the University of Baltimore School of Law and as a Sharswood Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

One of her current lines of research is the disproportionate distribution of highly-infectious diseases and the role of law in facilitating this result. She has several forthcoming and recent law review articles, book chapters, and online publications in this area. Her scholarship has been featured in leading law reviews such as the Cardozo Law Review, the Columbia Law Review, the Texas Law Review and the UCLA Law Review, as well as online for a such as Afronomics Law, ASIL Insights, Bill of Health, Jurist, Just Security and Opinio Juris. Professor Sirleaf also serves as an editor at Just Security.

She has received a number of prestigious grants, awards, fellowships, and other honors. These include the University of Pittsburgh’s Teaming Grant (2020), the University of Pittsburgh Chancellor's Distinguished Research Award (2019), the American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics Health Law Scholar Selection (2019), the University Center for International Studies Faculty Fellowship (2018-2019), the Ford Institute for Human Security Research Grant (2016-2018), the New York University Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award (2014) and a Fulbright Fellowship (2004).

A graduate of Yale Law School, the University of Ghana Legon Center for International Affairs, and New York University College of Arts and Sciences, She has served in a number of attorney and fellow roles prior to entering academia.

Abstract: Today, racial valuation of diseases informs the stark global health inequities seen worldwide. As a concept, racial valuation refers to how racialized societies assign differing values to an individual or group based on their racial designation and the position within the social hierarchy that their racial categorization implies. It helps to explain how laws, institutions, and society—informed by ideas about race—distribute material conditions in health, which perpetuate and reinforce existing hierarchies. This talk will explore the theoretical framework for racial valuation and examine how the historical and scientific construction of race influenced the emergence of racial valuation norms. The framework of racial valuation postulates that explicit and implicit pseudoscientific distinctions that devalue the worth of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color have persisted, diffused, and morphed over time. Racial valuation is woefully undertheorized, and its applicability has been underexplored in the literature. This talk develops a theoretical framework for racial valuation and applying it to the racialization of the novel coronavirus. This framework captures how racial valuation reflects racialized beliefs from slavery, colonialism, and neocolonialism, which persist today and have influenced the racial valuation of diseases. Significant legal and institutional reform is necessary to shift how people, society, and laws respond to diseases depending upon the racial populations most impacted.