BLACK WOMEN AND BABIES ARE DYING. WHAT IS THE WHITE BIRTH COMMUNITY DOING ABOUT IT?
Tasha Portley, RN and leader of M.A.A.M.A., was the sole black woman on the panel tasked with the question, “WHY ARE BLACK MOTHERS AND BABIES DYING, AND WHAT CAN WE DO?” Her answer was so beautiful, poignant and compelling, that it silenced the room.
(If you want to hear a continuation of her thoughts, watch HERE.)
Later, Ms. Portley asked featured speaker Ina May Gaskin to explain her thoughts on the connection between racism and black women and babies dying in birth. Unfortunately, Ina May did not rise to the occasion. (Watch the video yourself for your interpretation.)
THE CONVERSATION ILLUMINATES AN IMPORTANT POINT: IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO TELL BLACK WOMEN TO EAT BETTER, GET MORE PRENATAL CARE, OR LOSE WEIGHT. WE NEED TO SAY IT OUT LOUD: RACISM ALONE IS KILLING BLACK MOTHERS AND BABIES.
Most recent CDC data shows black women are four times as likely to die during birth as white women.
A recent article reaffirms what few white healthcare workers choose to be aware of … when it comes to risk of dying while giving birth, BEING BLACK IS A RISK FACTOR, ALONE. Even black women that are well-educated, well-nourished, with private insurance and no other risk factors are more likely to die than white women who don’t attend prenatal care.
WHAT CAN WHITE WOMEN DO? (FROM A BLACK WOMAN TO A WHITE WOMAN):
(TRIGGER WARNING: Certain wording may be inflammatory from a white birth worker’s perspective. I, Kate, don’t personally agree with all of it. But I honor this experience and so I leave it here. Original link: HERE.)
“For too long TBN, ICAN, and the birth community at large has lionized and made heroes of white women who perpetuate white supremacy and anti-Black racism. We’ve watched as Black women and women of color have been relegated to the margins in favor of white women feeling good about their birth experiences. We are DONE. We are demanding that our community BUILD BETTER BIRTHS – we believe this starts through trusting Black women. Please sign our petition and help us usher in the long overdue changes that are necessary to transforming our community for the better.
- Immediately acknowledge how harmful Ina May Gaskin is to the birth community. Publicly denounce Ina May Gaskin and those who support her racist ideology.
- Refuse to attend/participate in events that feature Ina May Gaskin. Gaskin is being paid to teach a narrative that is violent to Black women and people of color.
- Apply pressure to organizations who continue to support Ina May Gaskin and those who support her racist ideology.
- Publicly commit to funding the work of Black women in the birth community.
- Create a plan of accountability that includes anti-racist training for your chapters.
- Establish a scholarship fund to increase the presence of Black midwives and Doulas within the network.
- Form accountability group of women of color to oversee ICAN board process.
- Create process for anti-racist training with community accountability.
Texas Birth Network
- Present a clear plan for addressing and improving health outcomes for socio-economically disadvantaged people of color.
- Present a plan for anti-racist training
- Create a fund for Black doulas.
We DEMAND that ICAN, TBN, and the birth community TRUST BLACK WOMEN and build better births for ALL of us.
-Tasha Portley, R.N, M.S.N, C.C.M, C.P.ST
-Erricka Bailey, CD
-Jasmine Banks, L.A.C”
WHAT CAN WHITE WOMAN DO? (FROM A WHITE WOMAN TO WHITE WOMAN):
#1: LISTEN TO BLACK WOMEN.
Allow them to speak openly without editing their response. Allow them to speak not for your own interests, but for theirs. Trust them when they say they are experiencing racism. Trust them when they confront your behaviors and others’ as problematic.
#2. BE AWARE THAT YOUR IGNORANCE IS EXHAUSTING FOR BLACK WOMEN. It is heavy emotional work to ask a black woman to confront the very forces that oppress her in order to come up with what has to be done. Especially if we aren’t paying her. A black woman should be paid as an expert consultant in learning cultural sensitivity around race. Because black babies dying doesn’t just affect the black community; it affects us all.
#3: CREATE SPACE WHERE BLACK WOMEN CAN WORK. Space can be mental space, physical space, spiritual space. Invite black women to gather in community in spaces normally controlled by white women. Hold gatherings and give black women the microphone. Connect black women together so that they can become stronger in numbers and intentions. Invest in black women business owners so they can have space (resources) to do this exhausting work.
#4: DO WHAT YOU KNOW, USE WHAT YOU HAVE.
- Are you good at digital design? Create a brochure that highlights healthcare providers of color / alternative birth options and funding models.
- Do you know some folks? Reach out to local leaders on the birth community to host classes/discussions on allyship in the birth community.
- Are you gifted at red tape? Work towards development of a non-profit organization that will provide funds to reimburse doula support for women of color.
- Do you make good connections? Intentionally seek out collaborations with women of color doulas.
- Are you social media-savvy? Organize community events where black women can come and learn about their birth options.
- Do you have a platform? Perform/sing/speak and donate the funds to a black midwifery or nursing scholarship program.
THANK YOU TO BOTH MY BLACK AND WHITE FRIENDS/SISTERS FOR YOUR WILLINGNESS TO ENGAGE IN THIS CONVERSATION. IT’S UNCOMFORTABLE. PLEASE TELL ME WHAT YOUR IDEAS ARE, AND HOW I CAN HELP.
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF BLACK BREASTFEEDING WEEK 2016, at North Dallas Doula Associates.