Racism is killing Black babies and their mothers, says NPR study
A joint effort from NPR and ProPublica attempts to make clear the distinctive impact that racism is having on Black women and their progeny. The NPR article “How Racism May Cause Black Mothers To Suffer The Death Of Their Infants” tells the story of Shalon Irving, a 36 year old single Black mother who died three weeks after giving birth. Irving had achieved many of the hallmarks of advantage in American society, even obtaining multiple degrees, including two Master’s degrees and a dual subject Ph.D.
Additionally, Irving had a strong group of people around her, and yet three weeks post birth she was dead. Irving’s story fits into the narrative crafted by the statistics which bear out that Black women are 243 percent more likely than white women to die from pregnancy or childbirth related causes. However, this disparity is not alleviated by class or education or income or any other marker of “success.” A New York study reveals that white women with no high school diploma are less likely to have severe complications related to childbirth than college educated Black women.
Feminist scholar Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality nearly thirty years ago in order to help explain the unique pressures and oppressions that come with existing as a Black woman in America, and Crenshaw’s word explains exactly what the culprit is—in not only Irving’s case, but the many cases which place Black women at the center of racialized and sexualized oppression which only they currently face in America. Marginalized for being both Black and woman, the pressure to choose which oppression is the most deadly stacks upon Black women in this country, and this does not vanish when Black women become pregnant.
In fact, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health corroborates this in its study that shows racism induced stress is linked with high Black infant mortality rates. This suggests the stress and trauma of the surroundings of Black women is also passed onto the children they conceive, to the point where it does not matter what their education level or class is. If they live in poor neighborhoods, or if they live in segregated neighborhoods, the infant mortality rate is stratified along the lines of racial advantage and disadvantage.
These findings only underscore how vital it is that we build a world where it is not only safe for Black women to exist, but where Black women can nurture their children once they have them. Clearly the conditions of this current world only amplify the inequalities and oppressions which Black women face, and the children which reside in their wombs are not insulated from this bleeding effect.