Race and Birth Activism

Jill from The Unnecesarean posted this sobering slideshow about racism and its effects on the lives of black women and their babies. Black women are much more likely than other races to go into labor early, and their babies are more than twice as likely as white babies to die before their first birthday. This is true even when controlling for socioeconomic status, maternal smoking, and dozens of other factors.

The conclusion drawn from these studies is that the racism that black women face is responsible for the disparity.

That’s not a shocker to me. Racism kills people of color. My desire to dismantle the racial hierarchy that we live in does not stem from some hippy we-are-the-world type of philosophy; it’s because racism murders people of color. So when people say things like “I’m not really an anti-racist, I don’t see what the big deal is,” what I hear is “I don’t care whether people of color live or die.”

Jill’s post was excellent, but the comment section was, predictably, full to the brim with fail. Here are some snippets:

I am not buying it. It really comes off as flashing the race card…You never even listed reasons for these babies to die. Did they die in that first year due to child abuse? Improper care? Murder? Domestic abuse? Malnutrition?

As Tim Wise has said, what kind of a card is race? Also, racism doesn’t kill babies. Black mothers (who are apparently abusive, murderous, and neglectful) kill babies.

I truly hope that it turns out to be something a little more controllable than the nebulous “racism.”

The definition of nebulous is “lacking definite form or limits; vague.” Doesn’t sound like racism fits the bill to me.

I am a mom who was pregnant with a visible disability. If you want to talk about interpersonal stress, it would seem women with disabilities would have to deal with that at least as much as black women

Oppression Olympics: bingo!

The entire conversation was more than a little disheartening for me, as an aspiring health care professional. My future colleagues are going to be overwhelmingly white, and thus many will be happily unaware of their racial privilege. What are they going to say when I, a woman of color, speak up about the racial disparity in breastfeeding rates and outcomes? I want to help black parents breastfeed; I feel that as a black woman and lactivist, that it is my obligation to help identify and address the obstacles that black parents face when they choose to nurse their children. And I want to make sure that black parents have a choice in the first place.

Will addressing these concerns earn me the label of racemonger, of a woman who plays the “race card” in order to gain some intangible benefit? I’m sure it will, and I do not look forward to it. But I intend to put myself out there anyway, because racism is killing little brown babies like mine.

I think commenter Heather said it best on Jill’s blog:

Holy crap. Much of this comment thread is like a cross between racism bingo and Derailment for Dummies.

Yep, that pretty well covers it.


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6 Responses to “Race and Birth Activism”

  1. J Birch Says:

    I have to admit, I also don’t totally understand.

    How does “the racism that black women face” cause their babies die twice as frequently as white babies?

    Discrimination in the hospital? Difficulty getting health insurance?

    I’d really appreciate it if you could clarify… this is a disturbing statistic that is not only sad, but also confusing to me.

    Thanks 🙂

    • August Says:

      To put it very simply, I think the specific mechanism is that chronic stress – in this case, the stress of being a black woman in America – negatively affects the gestational environment. This article is a good place to start.

      Of particular interest to me is the fact that African women who move to America have birth outcomes closer to that of white Americans, but then the following generation has outcomes that trend towards black American women.

  2. J Birch Says:

    cause their babies TO** die, sorry 😛

  3. theroamingnaturalist Says:

    Interesting – through that whole article I was wondering about Native American women and Mexican women and the last paragraph answered my question.

    You getting into the medical profession is EXACTLY what the medical profession – and all those black mothers out there – needs. Keep up the awesome work.

  4. baj4life Says:

    Ugh, that whole comment section pisses me off every time I see it. It’s the same story over and over again — the oppressed must overwhelmingly prove the effects of oppression in order to get even the tiniest benefit of the doubt. Ugh, now I’m flashing back to grad school where the same racism denialism was like background noise. Unfortunately, these students were headed into health professions.

  5. Ivy Clinger Says:

    So then what am I supposed to do? As a white woman/mother/aspiring birth professional, what is my responsibility in this matter? I have never felt oppressed, and have never been an oppressor,and I raise my children to see all people as equals, so what else can I do? I have very rarely even witnessed racism, and when I have it was from ignorant individuals, not large groups or communities, so it is hard to grasp that racism is really that big of a problem still. In my little world, in my bubble I guess you could say, racism doesn’t exist, so I honestly and sincerely ask, what can I do? I know I’m not alone in this.

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