Yesterday was our country’s celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday. A holiday long fought for, and certainly well-deserved. With it, we remember the gifts Dr. King gave to this country, and honor all who worked with him during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s.
This year, this celebration unfolded in the path of our newest incarnation of the Civil Rights fight, the #blacklivesmatter movement. This movement, and the actions carried out under its banner, calls attention to the lives of black men and women at the hands of criminal police personnel. It takes yet another focused look at how racism — individual, cultural, and systemic racism and internalized oppression — leaves African Americans and other people of color out of the American Dream, and sets them up for suffering and death.
To this dialogue, I wanted to add a word about The American Way of Birth. The same infusion of systemic structures makes birthing a child in this country a very dangerous proposition.
The infant mortality rate among black infants is 2.4 times higher than that of white infants, primarily due to preterm birth. http://www.cdc.gov/media/subtopic/matte/pdf/CDCMatteReleaseInfantMortality.pdf
The private nature of infant mortality has made it a quiet crisis, lacking the public discussion or high-profile campaigns that accompany cancer, autism, or postpartum depression.
African-Americans fare far worse: Their rate of 13.3 deaths per 1,000 is almost double the national average, and higher than Sri Lanka’s. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/15/us/efforts-to-combat-high-infant-mortality-rate-among-blacks.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 Statistics are comparable among Native American infants.
The CIA publishes a list of the world’s countries, ranked by their infant mortality rates. At the bottom, with the highest rates of neonatal deaths: Afghanistan, Angola, Somalia. At the top: Monaco, Singapore, Sweden. Where’s the United States? It doesn’t even crack the top 30, falling behind nearly all of its “first world” contemporaries. Recent studies show that the US overall has among the worse infant and maternal mortality rates among industrialized countries. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jackie-copelandcarson/saving-our-future-remembe_b_1666409.html
“This racial disparity may be caused by socioeconomic disparities not just in adulthood but across the lifecourse, stress and discrimination, environmental quality differences as a consequence of residential segregation (e.g., pollution, crime, access to parks and supermarkets), and also differences in infant sleep practices,” says Peter C. van Dyck, M.D., M.P.H., Associate Administrator for Maternal and Child Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration http://www.minoritynurse.com/article/quiet-crisis-racial-disparities-and-infant-mortality#sthash.k0sjlE2c.dpuf
Recent increases in black infant mortality also coincide with significant cuts in programs designed to assist the poor, and an erosion of benefits in jobs held by many poverty-level workers.
Blacks have consistently had higher infant mortality rates compared with other racial/ethnic groups in the United States. This gap continues. Blacks had the highest infant mortality rate during the 2002-2004 period (a three-year period yields greater statistical stability), when nearly 14 black infants died for every 1,000 births http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2007/ColorDivideinInfantMortality.aspx
Second generation African women now have the same infant mortality rate as their African-American sisters.
A read though that information above should give a caring person pause. It should shake us to our core as American citizens, and move us to make the changes needed to stop this relentless and unnecessary stream of death.
As we consider the phrase #blacklivesmatter, I would like us to consider all black lives: those of Women, Men, Children, Elders, and Infants.
I would like to remind American citizens of all races that the deaths of people of color is simply the chirping of canaries choking in the coal mine, and that it ought to be the desire of every American citizen to consider making the American Dream align more closely with the dream of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
These dreams must be made available to all citizens. Our constitution says that we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This great country has the resources to facilitate healthy happy pregnancies for mothers of color. The loss there is directly linked to issues of poverty and its resulting stress. It is tied to racism, and to the weight exerted upon a human being living in an environment that tells her over and over again that she is not worthy of life.
Any mammal would have a difficult time with pregnancy and birth in a hostile environment; humans are no exception. The prevailing energetic atmosphere for people of color (and for poor people of any color) in this country is deeply threatening.
Maternal and infant death happens, even if everything is done “right”, but this ought to be a very rare and heartbreaking event. Take a look at the statistics above and imagine the cloud of grief hanging over the homes and hearts of African Americans grieving for lost babies, named and unnamed. How do you imagine the loss of these children and their mothers affect the quality of life for the loved ones left behind?
#blacklivesmatter reminds us all of the outrage of a life wasted, and reminds us of our responsibility to one another as human beings and citizens of this country. To this end, I am inspired by all of the nonviolent direct actions that have been sweeping the country and especially the Bay Area. I am inspired by my fellow citizens as they take to the streets to call again and again for social justice and an end to systematic racism. I pray that those actions remind our government of their responsibility to answer the call of the people, as opposed to the call of monied interests whose aim is quite clear: the padding of their own pockets on the backs of the nation’s children.
I add to this chorus a reminder of the “least of these”: the mommas and their babies, who also have a right to life, liberty and the ability to pursue happiness. I believe that Dr. King would be very proud of the Bay Area protests, of all of the protests.
May we keep working till the work is done.
(Thank you, Nicole Vranas, for your invaluable research.)