I attended a community meeting this past week. The meeting purpose was to examine causes for infant deaths in our community (which overwhelmingly happen to Black and Brown babies). Despite the fact that I was surrounded by leading professionals who were knowledgeable about all aspects of maternity and newborn care, the best they could come up with was to blame the victims (the mothers) themselves. There was no critical examination of the role of systemic racism within policies that kept them locked out of care. Only criticism of imagined failures of each mother as her case was presented. When I tried to point out that there may be other factors, there was deafening silence. I was told later by another party that my words were being dismissed by other participants because they had faith that the system was delivering good care.
Well I have no such faith. I have watched Black and Brown women be chewed up and spit out by the system for decades now. Our current system of maternity care for low resource women is toxic and punitive. Privileged whites have no business judging Black and Brown women's healthcare decision making- they should be seeking to understand why they make the decisions they do. The paternalism and assumption of rightness is maddening.
It is self-righteous attitudes like these that keep the system from being accountable to those it allegedly serves. The 'system' is deemed above reproach. Black and Brown women are not. Let's add insult to the injury of the death of a baby by questioning the mothers habits and motives. This is why we need to focus on system's change. No one is asking why Black and Brown women are twice as likely to be tested for drug use (when they are not twice as likely to use drugs). In my state it takes weeks if not months to be added to Medicaid and the mothers languish while they wade through a system sorely in need of an update. This is yet another example of hatred parading as helpfulness. The healthcare system is full of such landmines for Black and Brown women. They too believe the system to be altruistic, at least until they experience it for themselves.
We have got to do better. We have got to be more intentional about examining how we arrive at certain outcomes. As I travel across the country I see more of the same. Legions of white providers that have written off their Black and Brown patients as irredeemable, while giving themselves complete immunity for their own implicitness in those terrible outcomes. While the lone voice of the professional of color is criticized for not bearing the party line. Where is the hope in this? How long will our bodies bear the brunt of suffering from white judgment and white indifference? When will corrupt systems be made whole, so that we are enriched rather diminished by our interactions with them?
I think it may be- when we create our own.