Supporting Black Students, Colleagues, and Clients in the Midst of a International Awakening

Reflections on racism and oppression in midwifery

Hello all,

During this time of reflection, pain, grief, trauma, and heartache accompanied by a push for global revolution, seeking to achieve equity in midwifery education is as important as ever.  As people across the world demand justice for the Black citizens who have been murdered by police officers across the nation, we want to hold space in solidarity and express our commitment to social justice. As midwives, it is essential that we uplift, honor, and listen to our Black students and peers. Especially now, but also always. It is our duty as care providers to commit to equity and to continually unlearning the flash and deep seated problematic narratives about people and communities of color. 

We ask that you remember to prioritize believing Black students’ stories and perspectives. We must remember that it is harmful to dismiss their narratives and their truths especially in these traumatic and tumultuous times. Now, more than ever, we must ask ourselves if our reactions are undermining Black students’ feelings or requiring them to provide proof before we believe them. We must question ourselves and our beliefs instead of our Black students’ truths and traumas.

The events going on around us may feel overwhelming, may cause us to want to shut down, may stir something in us that wants to question the tactics and beliefs that our students or peers hold. This is a time to challenge voices in our heads that say “but what about…”. This is the time to educate and reeducate ourselves and listen to those who have experienced marginalization and have been silenced for far too long. This is also a time to take care of ourselves and our Black peers and community members. Compassion fatigue is real, it is exhausting, and it slows down the movement for Black lives. We must find balance within ourselves and our communities as we advocate for justice.

This is a time for non-Black midwives and midwifery educators to take a moment to pause and reflect before speaking on what is going on around the world. A question we might ask ourselves includes: Is what I am thinking of saying helpful and sensitive or might I need to process in a different setting?  We will all make mistakes, of course. As educators and students, we know that doing so is part of learning. If someone is generous enough to point out one of our mistakes, our challenge is to listen with humility, acknowledge our mistake, and do better next time. Quality apologies give us the opportunity to move forward. The same rings true when working with our Black clients or helping our colleagues and peers think about how to do so. Individualizing the midwifery model of care for our Black clients must include listening, holding space, and for those of us who are not Black, committing to continuously educate ourselves and strive to do better. As a midwifery community, is our responsibility to hold each other accountable.

We also want to encourage one another to not succumb to the fallacy of white exceptionalism or stagnancy. To say “I am not racist, I am one of the good ones” is both incorrect and harmful. We have a responsibility as educators and peers to continuously assess and root out our biases. It is not our fault that we exist in a world that has conditioned us to have implicit biases and uphold white culture and power. However, it is our duty as midwives to commit to fostering an environment that is safe for our Black coworkers, peers, and clientele. It is also our duty to commit to practicing cultural humility. To assume competency in any culture prevents further questioning, expansion, and growth as anti-racist healthcare providers. We must commit to doing better every day.

You might ask “How can I acknowledge the lived experiences of my Black students and clientele?” You can tell them you hear them. Tell them you see them. Tell them you support them and stand with them. This is a fight for equity and social justice and it involves all of us. It has not been nor will it all of a sudden become a short fight, or an easy fight, and it is crucial that we keep assuring Black people that we are listening to them and that their experiences in this world are valid. 

For any non-Black midwives or midwifery educators, one of our challenges is to accept and seek to understand that we will never understand the struggles of what it means to be a Black person right now, or ever. After accepting that we cannot ever truly comprehend the struggles of another, we can then move to validate them, listen to them, and amplify them. Doing so can illuminate a path for moving forward, a path on which whiteness will need to be continually removed from the center and from the forefront. 

Lastly, as educators, colleagues, and peers, we can consider reaching out and asking what role we can play in supporting our Black students as they work towards achieving their goals. We can remember the importance of listening, really listening and also allowing time and space for processing and healing. If we are financially able, then we can also donate to organizations that uplift and support Black students and midwives. In the midst of all of this, it is the least we can do. 

Below are some links to readings and places to donate as we seek to continue learning, examining our biases, and supporting and uplifting Black students and communities. 

Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay vigilant. 

Marlee Adams, Student Midwife

Reading Resources:

By: Uché Blackstock

“If academic medical centers and their leaders cannot adequately support Black students and promote Black faculty, then they will continue to leave. I was not the first to leave such a center and I will certainly not be the last. These centers, as exemplars of clinical, educational, and research innovation, shoulder the responsibility of ending health inequities and creating environments where Black students and faculty members can not only survive but thrive.

Academic medical centers must begin to recognize and rectify the historical and current impact of racism on the health care workforce. Their leaders should listen actively and respond accordingly to the concerns of Black faculty members and students, adopt an anti-racist philosophy, and, through a lens of racial equity, intentionally commit the time, effort, and resources required to dismantle the structural racism and white supremacy embedded in their current institutional cultures.”

  • Excerpts from National Black Midwives Alliance Article: Mama Claudia Taught Me: Reflections on Blackness, Queerness and Covid-19

By: Jamarah Amani

“Black folks are tender. She was so right. We are forced to wear hard shells in order to survive, but we are tender underneath. We are carrying years of generational trauma within our spirits and our bones and trying to heal. Black birth workers are in the work of healing, we always have been. But we are also weathered from what has been done to us – every table that we have not been invited to, every time we got fired or dismissed for not using the right tone to a white woman, every time we witness the oppression of our people and feel powerless.”

“Black doulas witness obstetric violence consistently in hospital rooms, and even though they advocate, they are not always listened to because the medical industrial complex is inherently violent and racist. Black midwives are on the front lines in their communities, often working for barters or for less than their services are worth. Black midwives work hard, managing risk factors and fears of their Black pregnant, birthing and postpartum clients, fighting against the odds for healthy outcomes. If they are serving white families or working in predominantly white environments, Black midwives will have endless amounts of microaggressions to contend with, trying to mitigate internal harm and deflect without getting fired or replaced. Black student midwives are struggling to find their place, often in unwelcoming preceptorships (if they can even find a preceptor), hostile learning environments and battling biased testing and certification standards.”

By: Alice Proujansky

“Culturally, white providers are trained to pathologize people of color and to not believe them,” explains Polston. “So when people are able to be culturally intact – I don’t mean just a placeholder person of color, but someone who’s able to practice with cultural authority – they’re able to cut through that and actually care for the person.”

Donation Opportunities:

“Black midwives are leading the change in the current maternal health crisis in the US, and beyond. As a result of colonalism and systemic racism, Black midwives experience incredible barriers to practice – the very practice that is the key to lowering maternal and infant morbidity and mortality rates in their communities. We stand with Black midwives and are committed to uplifting, honoring and supporting Black lives -the lives of mothers, parents and their children through culturally relevant and responsive midwifery care.”

“Vision: Access to respectful and culturally appropriate maternity care from community-based midwives is available to all families and recognized as a human right.”

“We commit to funding grants that confront the intersecting social, racial, and economic factors, which result in severe disparities in maternal and child health outcomes.”

“This Claudia Booker Memorial Midwife Scholarship is to support the education of midwives at Mercy in Action College of Midwifery who are from communities that are currently losing the most mother and babies at birth in America (African American/Black communities and American Indian/Alaska Native communities.) This scholarship is in honor of Claudia Booker, who passed away in early 2020 after an illustrious career as a CPM midwife. Claudia was faculty for the Mercy in Action College of Midwifery.”

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