Black Maternal Health Week is an annual awareness week to share information, resources, and solutions to prevent deaths for Black birthing people. Black women in the United States are four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women because of the deep and reaching effects of racism and white supremacy on our lives. Efforts to fix this inequity range from theory, art, and social justice, to health systems research, policy and beyond.
To that end, Black Mamas Matter Alliance and people across the country are unifying to dismantle white supremacy and give all Black mamas what they deserve—a birth experience where they feel the utmost care and respect. This nation’s Black maternal health outcomes were a flare signal to the United Nations six years ago when the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) called on us to eliminate racial disparities in health as a human rights issue.
And we know the adage: Unchecked history repeats itself.
White Supremacy’s Impact On Black Maternal Health And COVID-19
Data showing that Black Americans have a higher risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 amplified what many of us already knew: the United States fails some of its people. The element of individual behavior blame is prevalent in Black maternal health and COVID-19 alike, especially since comorbidities like heart disease and obesity increase risk of complications with the novel coronavirus. However, white supremacy is the comorbidity making every bad health situation worse; its presence creates an audacious aura of disrespect that some Black folk weather every day.
White supremacy is the comorbidity making every bad health situation worse.
It fuels the decisions that would defund maternal and reproductive health services—and that would refuse a coordinated pandemic response. It thrives in the healthcare sector, which is central to the top 3 largest industries in the country. It is the jet fuel gassing the racist policies that keep all types of inequities in place. When healthcare providers, policymakers and systems uphold white supremacy in any form, the door is left open for Black mamas, grandmas, uncles, and cousins to experience harm. We feel it now, more than ever with the COVID-19 pandemic.
In locations reporting their data, up to 60 percent of COVID-19 cases and deaths are Black. Lawmakers and civil rights advocates are petitioning the federal government and CDC to mandate data sharing in states that aren’t. This is critical because we’ve learned from our work with Black mamas that transparency and mutual trust are crucial for progressive to be made and healing to occur, but trust cannot exist when white supremacy has a hand in the response.
It’s Past Time For Some Solutions
Eliminating white supremacy is an “ethical imperative,” as Dr. Monica McLemore states. Therefore, in 2020, we urge health systems to un-blamingly hold voices in Black communities as central to health care solutions—from Black maternal health to COVID-19. Specifically, centering Black mamas and our needs is the best solution to preventable death.
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