From Birth Control to Death: Facing Black Women's Maternal Mortality
Friday March 30, 1:00 PM
Barbara Jordan Conference Center, Washington DC

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America has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed nation, according to the World Health Organization which found that between 700 - 1200 women died in the United States each year from pregnancy or childbirth complications. The United States’ maternal mortality rate has more than doubled since 1990, climbing from 12 to 28 deaths per 100,000 births.

We know that not all women are equally impacted by this phenomenon. According to NPR and ProPublica, Black women are 243% more likely to die from childbirth than white women. However, what many do not realize is that Black women’s vulnerability to maternal mortality is not a class determined issue. Factors that contribute to pregnancy and childbirth complications include damaging stereotypes about Black women’s strength and resiliency, and the pervasive notion that their pain is less real than that of their white women counterparts - factors that impact all Black women regardless of their socioeconomic success, academic achievement, and overall health and wellness. One need look no further than Serena Williams’s harrowing account of the health complications she experienced giving birth to her first child last September to see that wealth, fame, and achievement cannot shield one from the effects of racism and sexism.

As much as Black women have been valorized for their strength, we must recognize the elements of this myth that constitute relics of slavery. The indestructibility of Black women has long been an excuse for overwork and underprotection, a rationalization for our exploitation and abuse that has morphed into a dangerous stereotype that we have all too often internalized. These assumptions gravely imperil and undermine Black women’s health, both mental and physical, and lead to higher rates of heart disease, strokes and maternal mortality.

Black women are also disproportionately subject to various deleterious conditions, such as poor-quality environments in impoverished neighborhoods, food deserts and a lack of access to healthcare — conditions that make them more susceptible to life threatening diseases such as HIV and cancer. Moreover, there are drastic gaps in access to culturally-competent healthcare for Black women, meaning the diseases they contract are more likely to be lethal. While Black women have a lower rate of breast cancer diagnosis than white women, they have a drastically higher rate of mortality as a result of the disease. As the data show, Black women’s health in the US is in a state of crisis. Simply put, Black women die earlier deaths than their white counterparts because they are women who are Black.

On March 30th at the Barbara Jordan Conference Center in Washington DC, we held our closing panel of #HerDreamDeferred 2018: From Birth Control to Death: Facing Black Women's Maternal Mortality. The panel explored the ways in which stereotypes around the invincibility of Black women, their environmental circumstances and the gaps in culturally competent health care all intersect and interact to endanger Black women in specific and extreme ways. The panel was moderated by AAPF Executive Director, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and featured leaders in the field of Black motherhood: Laurie Bertram Roberts, Joia Crear-Perry, Avis Jones-Deweever, Jennie Joseph, AArin Michele Williams, and Kira Shepherd. 

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