As women increasingly fight for their rights, empowering poet Maya Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman” rings louder in the dimensions of justice. But here on Earth, poet Lucille Clifton accurately describes the situation by writing,
“both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.”
In the U.S., worshippers of established institutions will critique third-wave feminists as sexists and civil rights champions as reverse racist. Their idolization of a state system so void in moral thought has disillusioned their minds to be blind to all the genuine injustices in our society. Unfortunately, victims of such injustices cannot simply close their eyes. They cannot afford to convince themselves that the reality in which they live in is artificial.
The evidence of racial and gender injustices lies with cold bodies in what is ostensibly the safest place in the U.S. — our hospitals. It occurs at the most precious time in our human experience: the creation of human life.
The U.S. is currently leaps and bounds ahead of other developed countries in the most horrific category: maternal mortality rates. In fact, the U.S. has nearly triple pregnancy-related deaths than the next closest country, the U.K. While maternal mortality rates have descended in other developed countries, they have ascended in the U.S.
The U.S. also holds the highest infant mortality rate out of any other rich country at 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births.
This is great exposure for a country that sullies itself with proclamations of being the greatest nation in the world. Even though all women feel the effects from this inconsiderate system, the intersection of black women feel it the most.
According to NPR, 26.4 out of 100,000 births result in death of the mother in the U.S., but black mothers are victims three times the rate of white mothers. Black mothers are also over two times as likely to experience the death of their child in pregnancy. Numerous amounts of pseudo-intellectuals have attempted to make overarching claims connecting African genetics to the death toll, alleviating themselves from responsibility.
A 1997 study in The American Journal of Public Health found “black women were less likely to drink and smoke during pregnancy, and that even when they had access to prenatal care, their babies were often born too small.”
Another 1997 study in The New England Journal of Medicine found “babies born to new immigrants from impoverished West African nations weighed more than their black American-born counterparts and were similar in size to white babies.” The weight of the babies implies they were more likely to be born full-term, and as a result, have an increased chance at survival.
In 2002, the same researchers found daughters of West African and Caribbean immigrants who grew up in the U.S. gave birth to babies who weighed less than their mother’s children at birth, while grandchildren of white Europeans weighed more than their mother’s children at birth.
It is a great shock to the black woman, who is resilient, strong, smart and responsible, that none of these things matter because she is not only left stranded by society, but is targeted. She is not resilient, strong, smart and responsible because it is intrinsic to her nature. She is so because society does not leave room for her averageness.
It must come as a great shock for her to discover that in the “safest” place in the richest country in the world at her most vulnerable time, she is not protected.
It must come as a great shock that society, which has reduced her role to just a reproducer, does not care about her when she is fulfilling such a role.
In fact, the very doctors sworn to protect her only know of her physiology as different from their own. According to a 2016 study by University of Virginia, “white medical students and residents often believe incorrect and even sometimes ‘fantastical’ biological fallacies.”
“Many thought, falsely, that blacks have less-sensitive nerve endings than whites, that black people’s blood coagulates more quickly and that black skin is thicker than white,” wrote Linda Villarosa, former executive editor of Essence in the New York Times.
If some of the top intellectuals of the richest country in the world believe in false stereotypes of black people, where are they to go for medical treatment? For this reason alone, it is baffling that those who falsely believe in capitalism as a meritocracy don’t believe diversity is important in STEM fields.
The purpose of black men in the context of the American dream has been to unite white people and keep their minds filled with distracting ego-centrism. If black men are a tool used by elites to keep poorer white men content with their lives, one must wonder if black women’s only place in the U.S. is to reproduce the objectifying mechanism.
The mistreatment of black people in hospitals is not an accidental by-product of a psychological need to stereotype in our human nature. The mistreatment of black people in hospitals is a deliberate plan to move toward unregulated capitalism. During the Great Compression, the years spanning from the 1930s to 1970s, universal health care was proposed across bipartisan lines. Crony capitalists and racists created a phobia about universal healthcare, correlating it to the integration of hospitals. Hospitals have historically and purposefully minimized room for black people to gain profit.
While universal health care won’t solve all the qualms of black women, it is a good first step to ensure all black women are receiving treatment. Many deaths could be prevented by paying a little extra to improve diagnosis and preventative treatment. After this foundation is set, identity-based policies should be placed as needed.
Recently, doulas have gained popularity as an option to help black women persevere through their traumas during childbirth. While doulas are a great tool, they simply treat the symptom and not the diseased system. If we want to protect black women, we need systemic change.
Soheil Saneei is a 20-year-old biological engineering sophomore from Metairie, Louisiana.