The fight for the right to be a mother: 9 ways racism impacts maternal health

The fight for the right to be a mother: 9 ways racism impacts maternal health
In the United States, Black pregnant women are three to four times more likely to die from complications compared to their white counterparts. Credit: Shutterstock

As we celebrate our moms and mommies this Mother's Day, let us not forget that for some, motherhood is not an enjoyed privilege. For many Black, Indigenous and racialized women in Turtle Island (North America) and globally —motherhood is a fight for life.

The struggle for our maternal and motherhood includes daily resistance against anti-Black racism, anti-indigeneity, sexism, classism and other forms of intersectional violence.

The health of Black pregnant women and mothers is a key issue being debated in the United States presidential 2020 campaigns especially by Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Recently, Harris introduced a resolution to raise awareness of the disproportionately high rates of pregnancy-related deaths among Black women.

Professional tennis player Serena Williams' recent maternal health crisis demonstrated that Black women's can be jeopardized, suspect, dismissed and at risk of demise even for the very talented, wealthy and well-known.

The historical exploitation of Black and Indigenous women through forced sterilization, rape, medical experimentation and other forms of torture through scientific racism, African enslavement and Indigenous genocide directly impacts maternal health outcomes today.

This conversation is critical as we face recent fiscal cuts locally and globally to public health, education and anti-racism programs.

The World Health Organization defines maternal health as: "…the health of women during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. While motherhood is often a positive and fulfilling experience, for too many women it is associated with suffering, ill-health and even death."

Redefining maternal health is the goal of this conversation. We need to question our perceived notions of the "good mother," supported through her pregnancy, encouraged to reproduce, usually identified as white, middle class and heterosexual. And we must question our ideas of the "bad mother" —generally not supported through her pregnancy, sometimes even discouraged to reproduce, usually identified as African/Black, Indigenous, racialized and poor.

I briefly examine nine ways colonialism impedes maternal health using an integrated anti-oppression approach. I also look at some ways that we might resist these historical patterns.

Impact of maternal health inequities

State-sanctioned colonialism directly impacts the maternal health of Black, Indigenous and racialized communities as racist divisions continue to impede the likelihood of Black and brown babies' and mother's survival during our pregnancies.

Valid statistics coming from reputable sources support these facts. For example:

These statistics are helpful to describe an overall picture. However, missing from the stats are the context and impact of historical and current racism: that is, the impact of intersectional violence on maternal health.

But information about these contexts is difficult to garner. In Canada, maternal health statistics are not gathered based on race or indigeneity, despite the fact that racism directly impacts our health.

Anti-Black racism, intersectional violence and transgenerational trauma directly impact maternal health in the following ways:

Mother's Day call to action

With these contexts in mind, any conversation on maternal health needs to recognize health disparities for Black, racialized and Indigenous women impacted by anti-Black racism, intersectional violence and transgenerational trauma and their impacts on motherhood, parenthood and our families.

These factors lead to anguish, sickness, harm and death.

Therefore, on this Mother's Day, remember the political, social, environmental and spiritual fight for African/Black women, children and Indigenous communities to receive empowerment-centred healthcare services, treatment and support during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period from an anti-colonial framework.

We can work to counter this violence against Black pregnant women by conducting further research to provide information on how racism and other intersectional factors impact health.

We can also work to: reunify African diasporic families and communities; develop and maintain local and global health-centred advocacy spaces that support Black and families to survive and thrive; decolonize our medical systems; challenge all forms of scientific racism and intersectional violence; and support African-centred spaces to heal.

Explore further

Commentary: Tackling racial disparities in maternal health

Provided by The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.The Conversation

Citation: The fight for the right to be a mother: 9 ways racism impacts maternal health (2019, May 9) retrieved 9 August 2020 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments