Guest post by Mai’a Williams
so this is how it happens. about once or twice a year or so, one of the bigger birth advocate/midwifery blogs will do a post on race/racism and birth. i used to get excited when i would see a post like this. thinking in my head, yes, finally we are going to have a real conversation about women who are often the most vulnerable to violence in birth. the kind of conversations that in my opinion we need to be having.
i stopped getting excited.
now when i see that post on birth and racism, i groan. out loud. cause i know how it is going to go. post will go up. there will be the typical responses.
the ‘i don’t know what to do about all this racism stuff.’ response.
the ‘it is really about class/gender/some other oppression’ response.
the ‘those women just need to be more educated/get pre natal care/believe in birth’ response.
the ‘well if they just changed their lifestyle and stopped spending all their money on bling then they could afford decent healthcare’ response.
the ‘i’m not going to feel guilty for being white’ response.
the ‘i’m a woman of color and i don’t feel oppressed’ response.
the ‘let me tell you my birth/midwifery story that has nothing to do with racism, but i refuse to converse without making myself the center of the universe’ response.
the ‘i don’t know what to say cause i’m not a woman of color’ response.
the ‘people who talk about racism are the real racists’ response.
the ‘birth shouldn’t be political’
and so on.
there may even be a couple of intrepid souls who try to deconstruct/respond to these variations of denial and privilege, but they are usually overwhelmed, shouted down, conflict-avoidant, not used to conversations about race so are pretty much in shock by the racism that shows up.
i stopped getting excited not only because the conversation was typically predictable and unhelpful and energy draining, but because i came to understand that the effect of the blog post was to reify racism, not challenge white supremacy in the natural birth community. these one-off posts allowed for white folks to feel like they were ‘learning’ and ‘doing something’ about the rampant white supremacy in their world, without having to build any real relationships with those who are being hurt and killed daily by white supremacy. the conversations centered around how to be an ‘informed’ good white person, rather than how to stop the harm that is done to people of color.
no matter what, most white folks, in conversations about racism, insist on speaking for people of color, about people color, at people of color. insist on being the experts on people of color experiences. and if they cant be the expert, then they refuse to engage in the conversation at all.
for a lot of birthy white folks, writing a post about racism is the ‘i voted for obama’ card. it is what they can point to, to prove that they aren’t really racist. it is their way of not engaging critique and challenge to their white identity.
truth? i really don’t give a damn if you are an ‘informed about racism’ white person. i care about maternal and infant mortality rates for black folks in the states. about palestinian women being denied the right to adequate health care during the childbearing year. about the 80 percent c section rate in chiapas and oaxaca, mexico. about imprisoned folks giving birth while being strapped down. about forced sterilization for maquiladora workers.
how do we stop these atrocities, these genocides that are happening to those with the least amount of access and resources?
and we aren’t going to have these type of necessary conversations in a one-off post every few months or so. these one-off posts for the most part make racism in the natural birth movement worse, not better. those blog posts don’t de-center whiteness, they just act as a false replacement for real discussions, real education, real action in the face of racism and genocide and the ways that we in the birth world support these atrocities.
a few weeks ago, on facebook, i commented on a very well respected midwife’s post about the possibilities of exoticism and racism inside her ‘well meaning’ statement. her response was well, our magazine already did an issue on ethnicity. so we already covered that and don’t need to talk about it anymore. a week later, i saw an announcement that her magazine was doing their umpteenth issue on…waterbirth. she has her priorities. i have mine.
if we are going to really stop this racism, this abuse, we are going to do so by having conversations continuously, repeatedly, with dedication. we are not going to treat race, ethnicity, war, nationalism and birth as one more ’ blog topic’ on par with when is the appropriate time to cord clamp and how safe is unassisted birth. we are going to have to realize that race and ethnicity, the effects of colonialism and globalization are experiences that always flow through the conversations that we have about childbearing. and that if you don’t see that reality, then that is a reflection of how privilege has distorted your vision of the world and of birth.
honestly, we don’t need another blog post about racism, childbearing and midwifery. we need a movement that says these mamas, these babies of color matter. they deserve to live. and we will do everything in our power to make sure that they do. not out of white guilt, not out of the image of being the ‘informed white person about race’ but out of deep radical abiding love.