Institutionalized Racism, White Privilege, and MANA

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Jessica Roach, one of the MOC Inner Council Members who resigned, wrote a response letter.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.”

  6. 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.

White Noise and Queer Families

Susan Raffo wrote a beautiful piece for The Bilerico Project titled White Noise and Queer Families looking at the intersections of race and class privilege for children of queer parents.

This is a conversation about being and raising a white child; about the metaphorical and the literal air that child is growing up breathing. It’s a conversation about the privilege of white children. This is also a conversation about class, about ability, and about language.

For the purposes of this article, though, this conversation is focused on whiteness – on our white children. This is something we white folks, queer and otherwise, are often afraid to talk about. Our children are supposed to be innocent, somehow untouched by the painful complexities of the world. Our white racist children.

She has a whole section which you can think of as a roadmap for raising anti-racist children in a white family. On raising a race-privileged child:

[M]y beautiful daughter’s skin is white. And that can never be neutral.

So in loving this child with white skin, my partner and I decided we wanted to pay attention to how our daughter becomes the race of white. What does it mean for her to slowly grow in to the racism and white privilege that is part of the story of that skin that surrounds her?

Paying attention to how our child becomes white is about a lot of things: and we already know that we don’t know half of them. Sometimes it means paying attention to all of the ways in which being white gives her a kind of “get out of jail free” card, a kind of free pass into an adult life of better jobs, more income, and less stress and struggle. It means recognizing her access to having something like an “innocent” childhood, to unchallenged attendance at parks, dance classes, and a lineage of belonging. It means watching and learning from what happens when she pops out of me, all instinct for survival and connection to mama, and starts to grow a personality and set of understandings about herself and the world.

I love her self-reflexiveness:

There is nothing about this work that does not reek of privilege. The choice to do the work, the choice to put the work out there, the choice to stand back and think about how we are parenting our children, the attention we get because of this work; all of this is privilege. Some of this is about our children’s – and our – whiteness but it also includes their class, the fact that they are growing up in the US with uncontested citizenship, their current able-bodiedness, and more things than we can name here.

As our children get older and enter different developmental stages with different relationships with friends, community and self, we will need to figure out new things. There will be other conversations and other learnings. None of this will end our children’s white privilege in their lifetime. None of this will make it ok that we are white people who, generation after generation, are inheriting the “benefits” of slavery, of attempted genocide, of the strategic usage of people’s bodies and cultures for profit and gain.

And to finish:

By laying the groundwork differently, our hope is that we support our children to live in the whole world, with wide-open hearts and a sense of accountability and celebration. And that in living in the whole world, they might be part of shifting the pattern so that there are more children with each successive generation who also truly have access to the whole world. What we have realized in doing this work together is that we can’t take our children’s privilege away.

But one breath at a time, one child at a time, one parenting moment at a time, maybe we can move away from focusing only on “our” children to instead focusing on all children. That’s a queer families movement that I can get behind. One focused on family liberation, recognizing that full liberation also depends on my family’s ability to work against the power that we didn’t earn but which is always there, helping us along and making the road easier for us while making it harder for so many others.

Read this post in its entirety here.

Susan Raffo also edited the book that was published over a decade ago that I would still highly recommend called Queerly Classed: Gay Men and Lesbians Write About Class.

HT to Mia Mingus for the timely tweet.

Fighting for racial justice IS queer

Mia Mingus is amazing and if you don’t know who she is, you should definitely go and check her out. 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.

Her recent blog post “Intersectionality” is a Big Fancy Word for my Life pares down the keynote address she recently gave at MBLGTACC 2010. I think I’m in love. Listen.

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?

Anti-Racist Parenting

It’s amazing to me the way that information travels around the internet. I seem to be continually amazed at the power of social networking and blogs to change lives forever – whether for good or for bad. Here’s one such example:

Buckle your seat belts, because here goes nothin’.

1. Jackie Morgan MacDougall posted a story on momlogic about a time when her sons visited her at the office and:

my older boy shocked a room full of Moms when he asked me loud and clearly “Mommy, why is her face brown?” upon meeting one of my co-workers.

The question itself was not the problem. MacDougall’s embarrassment and white privilege combine for a major fail in her next actions:

I asked my co-worker to field the question because I was interested in hearing how she’d like it answered.

She concludes the blog post by stating:

What I learned from my preschooler that day is that recognizing differences in each other is not harmful, racist, or prejudice–it’s natural. It’s when you judge or treat someone differently because of those differences that’s hurtful. And that was the furthest thing from his sweet three-year-old mind.

Which is to say she completely missed the boat when she failed to recognize that asking her co-worker to answer her son’s question was covered in the section in Anti-Racism 101 in the section about not asking individuals to be spokespeople for their entire group, amongst other things.

Just to complicate this story more, it is important to note that MacDougall is white (judging by the pictures on her blog), an adoptee, and has two biological sons and a daughter adopted from Taiwan. In my book, this means you better be doing some pretty deep thinking (and acting) about race and racism, not to mention colonialism and white privilege.

2. People responded to her post with a variety of comments, some sympathetic, some inflammatory, some understanding, and some damning. People wonder whether her son has ever encountered a person of color before (MacDougall lives in LA and she would be hard pressed even in the richest, whitest of areas to accomplish this nigh impossible feat). People also offer advice on how she could have appropriately answered her son’s question herself and the myriad of reasons she should not have handed the question off to her coworker to deal with.

3. The story then gets picked up by Anti-Racist Parent, one of my favorite parenting blogs. Finally, the focus turns towards how important it is for parents to proactively talk about race with their children before, during, and after such unexpected comments like these. MacDougall’s actions belie the attitude of many white American parents – I’ll deal with it when it happens. Which sets you up for unexpected and difficult situations like these where you have the propensity to make a really stupid (and in this case racist) decision.

4. You know the story has hit the big time when it gets picked up by the New York Times. The New York Times! The author of the article, Lisa Belkin, gives a nice summary of the issue and lets MacDougall off the hook a little regarding her son’s question (but not MacDougall’s actions):

It has happened to every parent. A young child notices someone who is different than they are, or different from anyone else they have seen, or maybe is just like people they see all the time but this is the first they’ve wondered why, or maybe isn’t all that different at all but the youngster is trying out a child’s need to categorize.

One of my nieces, I recall, became fascinated by the idea of “ugly” — probably after reading about Cinderella’s stepsisters. Toddlers have no volume button and she would loudly ask my sister, “Is that lady ugly?” randomly and in very public places.

5. MacDougall later makes an apology and gives an explanation on her blog and requests to have it published on Anti-Racist Parent.

Ok, is your head spinning yet? Let’s do a quick recap in 5 easy steps:

(1) MacDougall posts on her blog and (2) momlogic about her own failings as a parent. (3)This gets picked up by Anti-Racist Parent and eventually the (4) New York Times. (5) MacDougall explains/apologizes and perhaps that is that.

Whew! It still blows my mind that this one woman’s choice to blog about what is really a commonplace occurrence (Should it be such a frequent event? Absolutely not. Is it? You bet it is.) gets her bad behavior written about in the New York Times for an incredibly large audience to read about. It also baffles me that this is what it takes for someone to (sort of) take accountability for her actions. MacDougall’s apology does not absolve her of her privilege and racism, but hopefully it illuminates an easily made mistake both for MacDougall in her future race discussions with her children and with the thousands of readers who see themselves in MacDougall and her mistake.

For your reading pleasure, I’ll leave you with a gem from the comments section from Belkin’s article in the NYT. Anothermom writes:

I come from India, and I was carpooling my 5 year old with his friend (even at 5 they consider the parent-driver absent – lovely). The white friend asked him why he was brown (in a simple, curious tone) and my son answered ‘there is lot of sun in India, so brown skin protects you from sun” (which is the answer he might have gotten from us) and then added “and there are a lot of forests in India, so brown skin lets you blend in trees to save yourselves from tigers”. This was hilarious, and it made his friend quite jeolous and he moped “I want to be brown too”.

UPDATE: MacDougall’s co-worker responds on Anti-Racist Parent here. It just keeps getting deeper and messier. One commenter speaks a poignant truism about this ever more involved story:

Thank you for publishing the other half of the story. As a grad. school prof. once told us in class, there are at least 17 sides to every story.