On April 14th, The New York Times Magazine published an article on the huge discrepancy between infant mortality and maternal death rates between black and white people entitled “The Hidden Toll: Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis,” authored by Linda Villarosa.
Villarosa reports that not only are infant mortality rates for black infants more than double that for white infants, but that this situation is worse than in 1850. She writes that a college-educated black mother is more likely to die related to childbirth than a white mother with an 8th grade education, and points to systemic racism as being a likely root cause.
There is a paucity of research to identify specific pathways that lead to increased deaths. In my years as a public health nurse in urban setting, this discrepancy was clear. The question of the effects of systemic and institutionalized racism and poverty is rarely even raised.
Every decade or so the March of Dimes would raise funds to study this high rates of infant mortality and pay medical epidemiologists and researchers. Almost no funds would go to feet-on-the-ground solutions, such as improved conditions to lower stress, transportation to medical appointments, childcare for the 5 hour clinic waits with no food or fluids allowed even for young children, etc.
One of my nursing mentors called this “middle class welfare,” with public or charitable funds going to institutions and middle class (generally white) people, rather than to those in need of the solution.
There was no identification of the issue as a problem of racism.
When I spoke with a “right to life” advocate, he told me “the right to life ends at birth” so it was not his focus.
Black lives matter is broader than police violence. It is broader than gun control, and includes a wide range of ways that racism affects the health and very lives of people of color.
The health and well-being of especially vulnerable populations—including mothers and infants, dependent children, elders, and all who live in poverty—have been my professional and personal mind and heart for some decades. I am heartened to see an article like this one being published, though discouraged to see no progress and even sliding backwards.
Quaker universalism includes care and concern for all people. How do we address such concern? Raising our awareness of what oppresses and damages people is a first step. Reaching clarity on what issues and how we can contribute to change follows on. Together we can find pathways forward better than we can alone.
What is on your mind and heart? How do you decide which of your concerns to act on? Do you act with your faith community or others?
Linda Villarosa directs the journalism program at the City College of New York, in Harlem, and is a contributing writer for the magazine. She last wrote a feature about the H.I.V. epidemic among American black gay and bisexual men.
Image: “Mother and Daughter, Midway, Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, 2012,” by Eric Parker (8/27/2012) [Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) on flickr.