AROMidwifery is raising money for scholarships for birth workers of color to attend the 8th annual ICTC conference this October in Florida. I cannot even begin to tell you how important this is. Scholarships and other funding for student midwives of color was one of the specific requests of the Midwives of Color working group in MANA (back before the MOC inner council resigned en masse). It’s a definite need. Frankly, it’s one of the single most important ways of combatting the racial disparities in the maternal and infant mortality rates in this country. We absolutely completely need more midwives of color working in this country and this is one of the ways we can do this.
From the AROMidwifery blog:
I want to be a midwife as much as I want to breathe. I know this is something I can do. I have the resources and support I need to achieve my goal. I also know that when I am among a group of midwives, chances are, they will look like me, talk like me, and among them I will feel comfortable, welcomed, and safe. They will see me as a unique individual, rather than a representative of my ethnic group. They will accept me as one of them. This is my privilege – my white privilege; always present, even as a student midwife.
I also know there are many other people who want to become midwives as intensely as I do. Yet women of color who hear this call don’t have the privilege that I have. Generations of economic injustice mean that aspiring midwives of color often lack the financial support that many white student midwives can count on. Moreover, when students and aspiring midwives of color are among a group of midwives, there is a good chance that the majority of the people in the room will not look like them. They may not feel truly accepted, safe, or welcomed. If they speak in these groups, they may be expected to represent their ethnic group, rather than being listened to as individuals. They very likely cannot find preceptors or peers of their own skin color. This is institutionalized racism, and it is always present in the United States, even in midwifery.
Please donate. Give what you can. Give $5 or $500. Give more if possible. Think you can’t make a difference? Think again. Supporting student midwives of color is one of the single most important things we can be doing to change birth and midwifery in this country.
Oh my goodness. If you haven’t been following along, there has been a tremendous amount of activity in the last two weeks within MANA, the Midwives Alliance of North America.
Here is a rundown of what has happened so far:
On May 21, the Midwives of Color (MOC) MANA section chair and her Inner Council resigned en masse from their board positions within MANA and the organization itself, citing continued institutionalized racism and continued inaction on MANA’s part. The midwives who resigned are the MOC Chair Darynée Blount and the MOC Inner Council: Jennie Joseph, Jessica Roach, Ayesha Ibrahim, Claudia Booker and Michelle Peixinho. All of these are midwives and student midwives for whom I have nothing but the deepest respect and admiration. They are absolutely top midwifery leaders and activists and are at the forefront of reproductive and birth justice work in the midwifery world. MANA lost some of their best midwives when these women resigned. You can read the entire resignation letter here.
MANA responded on their Facebook page by trying initiate conversations about what happened and where to move forward in the future (these can be an infuriating experience to read, be forewarned). They continue to write letters to their membership and the public at large explaining their position, stating the work they have already done and where they see their next steps, and making public a sort of apology that did not take any real ownership for racism and racist practices they have perpetuated through the history of MANA. You can all of these public statements here.
Wendy Gordon wrote a letter of apology. This letter addresses her own shortcomings, examines her role in perpetuating racism in midwifery, and makes a commitment to move forward and make changes in the future. It looks a lot more like the apology letter I would have liked to have seen from MANA.
Perez covered the resignation on the Radical Doula blog here and here. I think she really hits the nail on the head here:
“Again, for me, the bottom line is this: we can no longer ignore the disproportionately high negative maternal and infant health outcomes faced by communities of color.
“And it’s going to be damn hard to address those disparities if we can’t even address racism in our own organizations–especially if that racism means that providers of color choose to leave or are pushed out.
“The needs of communities of color in maternity care can no longer be the topic of an interest group, or a caucus, or a breakout session. It has to be THE FOCUS. And my guess is that if we address the needs of communities of color, we’ll probably change maternity care in ways that benefit everyone.”
There have been some calls for a resignation of the entire MANA board, a radical restructuring of the power systems within the organization, and a new board with MOC members committed to institutional change. Personally, I am supportive of this proposal. I think it’s going to take radical change like this resignation and other organizational restructuring to dismantle the systems of power currently in place and rebuild an organization that actually serves all midwives, parents, and children.
Frankly, MANA’s response it is too little way too late. A lot of it looks like white guilt and lip service to me, without any real sweeping change that will effect anything substantive. Within the past year, they launched a social justice agenda, brought some anti-oppression trainers on-board, and started to offer workshops at MANA conferences. What is needed is deep, sweeping institutional change and a strong commitment to undoing the the harm caused by racism in the past and in the future. We need to re-examine our priorities as midwives and own up to our own role in the racism inherent in white-dominated midwifery as it stands today. No ifs ands or buts. Each and every white midwife needs to learn about anti-racism and anti-oppression work and commit to continuing this learning process for the rest of their tenure as a midwife. They need to examine their own role in the racist attitudes, actions, and statements perpetuated by them, their fellow midwives, and their midwifery organization. It is each white midwife’s duty to learn about white privilege and own their own shit. Not only is this imperative for the profession as a whole, it is crucial that we do this in order to serve our clients better and all birthing parents.
I think midwifery has an incredible opportunity here to really effect the racial disparities facing Black and Native American families specifically when it comes to maternal and infant mortality. Will we let the opportunity slip us by? I sincerely hope not. I am done pussy-footing around here and I am sick of forgiving ignorance and racism as par for the course when it comes to midwifery. Our clients deserve better, our students deserve better, and we ourselves deserve better. I am fed up.
I want to state for the record that although I am a student midwife, I am not a member of MANA. I was considering joining my professional organization when I had enough extra money to do so although lately I have been re-thinking things. I already knew that MANA had a serious and long-standing problematic relationship with race and racism. However, watching how MANA has dealt with the resignation and the aftermath, I am less than impressed. I don’t know that I can, in good conscience and at this time, join an organization that midwives the likes of Jennie Joseph and Michelle Peixinho feel they can no longer be a part of.
“It’s not acceptable that African American women, regardless of their educational and economic background, still have a four times greater chance of dying in the childbearing year than their white counterparts… It’s not acceptable that three to four times more Native American and African American babies die than their infant white counterparts.”
This is how the incredible Geradine Simkins opens this new film in MANA’s new I Am A Midwife series. I love this short film. None of these midwives are beating around the bush here. They give you the facts and make it clear just how serious of a problem racial inequality is for maternal and infant mortality. This film features some of the most brilliant CPMs today working on reproductive justice within a midwifery context including not only Geradine Simkins, but also Katsi Cook, Claudia Booker, Umm Salaamah Abdullah-Zaimah, Tamara Taitt, and Arizona’s own Marinah Farrell. I can’t even tell you how honored I am to be joining a community of midwives that includes these women. I feel like they and other midwives and birth professionals like them have been laying and continue to lay the groundwork and foundation that will allow these crucial changes to take place and transform maternity care as we know it in this country.
To that end, I leave you with this quote by Tamara Taitt:
“I feel like health disparities is really the battle ground on which midwifery will be proven to be the gold standard.”
So, funny how this small project of mine called school has taken over my life. I have a few blog posts in the works, but I have been noticing how quiet Bloody Show has been lately. It makes me a little sad. So until I get a few moments to finish the posts I have started, here’s a little light reading for the meantime. Over at The Unecessarean, there’s a lively discussion going on:
Start with Mai’aWilliam’sguest post about the necessity of making conversations about race and active anti-racism at the center of our birth work.
I’m sad I missed the recent blog carnival on Midwifery and Racism hosted by the Navelgazing Midwife but go check it out. Unfortunately, I think the poor turnout is due to a lot of factors mentioned by Mai’a in the post I linked to above.
Finally, if you want a peek into some recent frustrations in my life, check out this post on a recent conversation (by which I mean outright brawl) on the MANA student discussion group as outlined by the Becoming Midwives blog.
Mia Mingus is amazing and if you don’t know who she is, you should definitely go and checkherout. She is “a queer disabled woman of color korean american transracial and transnational adoptee working, creating and loving towards wholeness and connection, love and liberation” and one kick-ass activist.
We have to confront white supremacy within LGBT and Queer communities. A queer politic MUST include solidarity with people of color; it MUST include fighting racism and white supremacy. Because we aren’t queer OR people of color; queer OR white; queer OR able bodied; queer OR working class. We can’t just decide to come together as queer people and expect that we are all going to be united and work together—or that we’ll even feel comfortable.
We must be willing to have hard conversations as queer people with each other about how we are different as queer people. It helps us to expand what “queerness” is—to see that there are many different ways to be queer.
This talk about intersectionality is my kind of politics. The more I move out in the world, the more I realize that thinking in this way is part of a radical politic. Also, the more I grow the more I know without a doubt how absolutely necessary this kind of thinking is.
Racism and white supremacy are so pervasive, that we don’t even have to be consciously or intentionally doing anything to participate in them. It’s in the air we breathe; it’s how the machine rolls; it’s the default. It’s backed by everything in our society. That’s the thing about oppression, power and privilege: unless you are actively challenging it, you are colluding with it. We live in a heterosexist society, we live in an ableist society and we all have a responsibility to actively work against it. We can’t guarantee that things won’t be ableist or won’t be racist (that’s not the world we live in right now); but we CAN guarantee that when there is racism, when there is ableism, that we will do something about it. We will LISTEN to those most impacted; we will listen to people of color, we will listen to disabled folks; we will listen to trans folks; we will listen to queer disabled people of color—and hear them. We can guarantee that we will act and communicate with each other. And maybe we will make mistakes; and we will learn from them.
There is no such thing as neutrality. If you have privilege, you can never be neutral, because you are constantly benefiting off of that privilege—even at the same time as you are also being oppressed. That is what “intersectionality” (for lack of a better word) is about. It is about moving beyond single-issue politics; it’s about understanding the complexities of our lives. It is understanding that fighting for racial justice IS queer; fighting for disability justice IS queer.
Intersectionality informs the type of student midwife I am and the type of midwife I hope to be. How can we wake the birth community up to the necessity of this expansive way of thinking?