The current American midwifery landscape is steeped in racism and white supremacy. We have a legacy that must be acknowledged in order to be rectified.
Black activists and authors, Black midwives, doulas and birth workers, Black women, families and consumers have all been raising the alarm about the effects of systemic racism and white supremacy in our current health care system and its consequences for Black birthing bodies. They have been sounding these alarms for decades. It has primarily fallen on deaf ears until very recently. Now that the numbers are undeniable, now that the deaths are escalating at disturbing rates, now that white people can no longer ignore them, now we are talking about this crisis.
As stated, white American midwifery in the US has a long history of racism and exploitation of Black midwives and Black families. There has been more discussion recently of this legacy within medicine and we must not forget that white midwifery has historically been right there alongside the medical system. As a white midwife, it is my responsibility to not only acknowledge this history but also to speak openly about it and to actively work against it.
Don’t take my word for it, please take some time to visit these sites, explore their links and educate yourself about this history.
There are myriad books available as well, I offer this list as a starting place
- Reproductive Justice by Loretta J Ross and Rickie Solinger
- Medical Bondage by Deirdre Cooper Owens
- Reproductive Injustice by Dana-Ain Davis
- Delivered by Midwives by Jenny M Luke
- The Medicalization of Birth and Death by Lauren K Hall
- Birthing Liberation by Sabia Wade
There are also many powerful groups and organizations doing this work that need support
I recently shared a post on my social media platforms about the newest US maternal mortality data from the CDC. My intention was to raise awareness of the crisis, to continue to alert the mainstream birth culture to these data. And in sharing these data, I also potentially exposed Black people to more trauma by adding to the negative images and information. There is a fine line between raising awareness and adding to trauma, I strive to err on the side of awareness. But do I hit this goal? Or do I simply add to the trauma? Or are both true? Do I help raise awareness and potentially add to the trauma? The hard truth is that yes, most likely both are true. What I can say now is that going forward I will be wary of sharing anything that may add to trauma and instead focus on sharing beauty, strength, resilience and resources.
Performative Allyship is a pitfall that all members of nonmarginalized groups must actively strive to avoid. Words, images and hashtags must always be backed up with action. Advocacy and allyship should be active, they require that we do more than post. We must volunteer, we must donate financially when we can, we must be open to listening and then amplifying, to stepping out of the way so others can be heard.
I will always strive to do my best, to not just perform allyship but to be active with my advocacy. Will I always live up to highest levels? Sometimes yes and sometimes probably not. I am human after all. But I can promise that I will always be open to learning, listening, to constructive criticism and to change.