In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Four years ago, I had an exchange with a healthcare provider that I’ll never forget and always be ashamed of.
The conversation started when I excitedly told the care provider about a Milwaukee Public Schools resource nurse I spoke with for Our Milky Way. Among many admirable accomplishments, Jennifer Rudnik runs a lactation support program for teenage mothers with a 97 percent breastfeeding initiation rate.
The care provider nodded, seemingly unimpressed.
“You know,” she started. “You know why her rates are so high? Because breastfeeding is an excuse for Black teen moms to expose themselves.” Her tone so matter-of-factly.
My mouth hung agape in shock and disgust. There was a long, uncomfortable silence as I grasped for an appropriate rebuttal.
I managed meekly: “Umm, are you sure? I don’t think that’s true.”
She was sure.
And that was that. The conversation moved on to other things.
These years later, I remain frightened by the care provider’s grotesque misrepresentation of young, Black mothers. More so though, I remain ashamed by my failure to speak up against racism.
This month, as part of National Minority Health Month and Black Maternal Health Week, we featured Dr. Joia Crear-Perry’s commentary which urges us to shift our language and ultimately the essence of the conversation around Black maternal health.
Dr. Crear-Perry writes: “Let’s list racism as a modifiable risk factor for poor maternal health outcomes. When we can do that, we can work together to dismantle it.”
If you’ve acknowledged that racism kills, but don’t always know where to go from there, Debra Bingham, DrPH, RN, FAAN, founder of the Institute for Perinatal Quality Improvement (PQI), wrote #Speakup for African American and Black Women which offers seven points of advice and encouragement on how to help change the narrative.
“Conversation is where change begins and we have the power to change the conversation,” Bingham writes.
Read Bingham’s full blog post here.
More on dismantling racism:
2 Takes On Fighting Racial Discrimination From TED Fellows
White people, stop asking us to educate you about racism
WHEN SUMMER CAMP TURNS RACIST AT SCHOOL OF THE NY TIMES; A POWERFUL LESSON FOR BLACK & WHITE MOMS IN NAMING RACISM & MOVING FORWARD FROM CHARLOTTESVILLE