I watched her body tremble with anger. A wave of exasperation engulfed the conference room.
“Black women are 12 times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than white women,” her voice boomed.
“Twelve times more likely!” she repeated disgustedly. Her eyes patrolled the room sad and tired, but not entirely hopeless.
Karin Cadwell, RN, PhD, ANLC, IBCLC addressed the striking disparities in maternal child health outcomes in the U.S. and structural racism’s role in this equation at this year’s International Breastfeeding Conference.
“Don’t tell me the civil rights [movement] ended in the Sixties,” Cadwell went on. “This is not a problem that ended at lunch counters and bathrooms.”
Not long before the breastfeeding conference, I read Kimberly Seals Allers’ The Trump Election and 5 Urgent Wake Up Calls for the Breastfeeding Movement: Honesty, Gender Solidarity and PC-ism Are Dead. In all my 27 years, it was Seals Allers’ frankness, honesty, and sense of urgency in this piece that finally called me to become introspective about race; to question why I feel or react a certain way when confronted with issues involving race, to acknowledge my bias. I will never understand what it’s like to live a Black life. I can however acknowledge that the plight of People of Color exists. And I can attempt to figure out my role in creating equity for all.
Attending the breastfeeding conference provided me the opportunity to continue to process Race and my role. Like Karin, NAPPLSC President Felisha Floyd, BS, CLC, IBCLC, RLC trembled when she spoke. The tone she assumed, she explained, stemmed from a sense of urgency for the lives of Black babies and Black mothers. For those who die at alarmingly high, disproportionate rates.
All my life I was told that race doesn’t matter. That we’re all human. That we’re all the same on the inside.
“Then you don’t see my Black breasts, my Black child, my Black life,” Floyd explained.
I don’t see race sentiment is easier. It gives us an excuse to ignore what social science tells us about racial inequities. It gives us an excuse not to change.
When Willow was three, she fell down a flight of stairs. Her tears were tinged with pinkish blood. I wiped the tears from my face after watching her fall and rushed her to the children’s hospital.
When Seals Allers son needed to visit the hospital, she first had to change from loungewear to professional attire for fear of how she and her family would be received by hospital staff, she told us at the conference. Upon arrival, Seals Allers was asked, “Are you a teacher or a lawyer?” The questioning had nothing to do with her son’s condition and everything to do with the color of her skin. My experience as a mother is so far from Seals Allers’ experience as a mother, because she is Black and I am White. It’s almost incomprehensible.
Hearing stories in the flesh from Black women has made it impossible for me not to see race. My midwife pointed out that it is not People of Color’s responsibility to educate or guide us in our journeys to be better allies. But women like Floyd and Seals Allers do. They put their emotions on the line and nearly wring themselves dry to spread their word. For that, I am so very thankful.
Below is a short list of resources I gathered mostly from presenters at the conference to help us become better allies to People of Color:
Center for Social Inclusion’s toolkit for talking about race http://www.centerforsocialinclusion.org/communications/talking-about-race-toolkit/
Fusion Comedy’s How microaggressions are like mosquito bites https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDd3bzA7450
Information about different types of racism http://oppressionmonitor.us/2014/01/31/four-types-racism/ and implicit bias https://www.centerforsocialinclusion.org/csis-guide-on-implicit-bias/
An ideal society