Contrary to Popular Belief, Black Women Feel Pain by Mataia Blackwell

In a speech, Malcolm X (1962) asked a question and went on to elaborate on his idea: “Who Taught You to Hate Yourself?” he stated., “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” Historically, people have not listened to black women. Their narrative has been excluded from things such as the Civil Rights Movement and even major waves of Feminism and is still happening currently.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018), research shows that black women are nearly four times more likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth than white women. Why is that? When it comes to maternal death rates, racial disparities between black and white women in the United States healthcare system are not due to general health, access, or education; they are present because of racism.

Black women are not biologically less successful in terms of giving birth than white women. Health care providers fail to provide the same resources, care and empathy towards their black patients. To combat these racial disparities, actual steps need to be taken, like implicit bias trainings within medical schools and other healthcare facilities to prevent these deaths from happening.

The United States is the only industrialized country where the rates of maternal deaths have increased, rather than decreased. In America, young women today have a higher risk of dying during childbirth than their mothers did.

Of these maternal deaths, most are women of color, and many of them are black women. In Aviv’s (2018) CBS Interview with Dr. Neil Shah, the doctor openly stated that race is a big factor, “We believe black women less when they express concerns about the symptoms they are having, particularly around pain.”Dr. Shah also brings attention to the fact that many hospitals do not have any rules in place that require doctors to cater to patient’s concerns in any timely manner. Therefore when black women express complications during or before childbirth, they simply do not get taken seriously or treated in an appropriate time frame which incorporates more time for incidents to occur.

In 2018 a Black woman named Kira Johnson lost her life due to an experience with a C-section and poor professional treatment. While Kira and her husband Charles were at the hospital waiting, they noticed that her catheter started turning pink with blood. After expressing these concerns to the doctors and requesting a CT scan, she was not seen until seven hours later. After finally going into surgery, she died (Aviv, 2018). If she were to have had better care in deciding the best birth option as well as being seen in a timely manner, then she would most likely be alive today. Racial biases create an environment where there is less urgency to cater to the needs of Black women.

Racism is also not a matter of class, as black women of high status also receive the same poor treatment. This became apparent after world-class tennis athlete Serena Williams spoke out about her near-death experience during the birth of her daughter Olympia. She developed a pulmonary embolism after giving birth to her daughter but when she attempted to tell the doctors that she believed that she needed to have a CT scan, the request was not taken urgently. It was only after constant requests and demands that she was seen.

It is not unknown that people do not listen to black women, but it is unacknowledged. For progress to be made, it is vital to challenge the issue. When it comes to healthcare, especially live childbirth, it can literally mean a matter of life or death for black women. Empathy, education and inclusion are key factors that will lessen the occurrences of this issue as well as easing discomfort that black women face. Creating fear amongst black women surrounding child birth is a violent attack on the autonomy of their bodies and livelihood. During the time that action is not being done to address or help this problem, black women are losing their lives.

Mataia is a Junior here at OU, majoring in Human Relations with a minor in Psychology. She is a member of the McNair Scholars program, where her research focuses on the treatment that Black women face during their childbirth experiences within our public healthcare institutions. Mataia is incredibly passionate about social justice issues and plan on dedicating her life and work to help marginalized groups.

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