“I promise, I will do something this time.”
Think back to the first time you felt moved to fight against racism. Was it at a conference? After reading a book? Was it after watching Power Point slides demonstrate over and over that black mothers and babies die at a rate twice that of white mothers and babies in the US? Think of that feeling in your gut just moments after you wished you had said something or done something against a racist comment, but didn’t quite have the courage yet. Now hold that feeling and listen again to that promise you made to yourself . . . “Something must be done. I promise, I will do something this time.” Now is the time to do something.
I want to be a midwife as much as I want to breathe. I know this is something I can do. I have the resources and support I need to achieve my goal. I also know that when I am among a group of midwives, chances are, they will look like me, talk like me, and among them I will feel comfortable, welcomed, and safe. They will see me as a unique individual, rather than a representative of my ethnic group. They will accept me as one of them. This is my privilege – my white privilege; always present, even as a student midwife.
I also know there are many other people who want to become midwives as intensely as I do. Yet women of color who hear this call don’t have the privilege that I have. Generations of economic injustice mean that aspiring midwives of color often lack the financial support that many white student midwives can count on. Moreover, when students and aspiring midwives of color are among a group of midwives, there is a good chance that the majority of the people in the room will not look like them. They may not feel truly accepted, safe, or welcomed. If they speak in these groups, they may be expected to represent their ethnic group, rather than being listened to as individuals. They very likely cannot find preceptors or peers of their own skin color. This is institutionalized racism, and it is always present in the United States, even in midwifery.
In the past year I have begun to learn about my white privilege and how it comes at the expense of others. I operate in an educational and professional system that was designed for my demographic. I have to work hard and my struggles are real, but there are no obstacles in my way because of the way I look or where I come from–in fact, these factors work in my favor. A student midwife of color has to work harder than me to find funding for study and to be accepted for a preceptorship. And it’s not because I’m better or smarter than her. It’s because I’m white.
These are hard realities to face, often too hard for many white people who deny that this reality exists. It’s hard to know what we as individuals we can do. It’s easy to get caught up in feeling guilty or helpless. But these feelings themselves keep white privilege powerful. If we want to make real change, we must face these difficult feelings and move to action. I know that this work may not be done in my lifetime, but I am driven to find a way to start.
One very small way I can do this is to support women of color in coming together in a safe and unified space that supports unity, power, and a sense of belonging – a privilege I already have.
During the first CPM Symposium this past March, there was a courageous group of women who shared the hurt and frustration of institutionalized racism within the natural childbirth community. This was a gift to all in attendance. It is a gift to realize you have hurt someone. It gives you the opportunity to stop the hurt and help to heal. There is an immediate need to heal and begin to repay this gift.
White midwives asked, “But what can we do?” There was an answer. There is a need to fund scholarships for women of color, both students and midwives, to attend conferences. It is time to take a step in answering that call.
Helping to fund attendees of the Black Midwives and Healers Conference is a particularly important first step, because several of the brave women of color at the CPM Symposium expressed that this conference can provide a rare safe space for practicing and student midwives of color.
It takes courage to really face your privilege, but once you realize that privilege for one is harm for others, it cannot be ignored. Please join me in taking a small step toward challenging white privilege and making the North American midwifery community inclusive and empowering for all women. Help AROMidwifery and ICTC support midwives and students of color by donating to our scholarship fund for the 8th International Black Midwives and Healers Conference.
AROMidwifery is working to raise as much financial support as possible in the next 5 weeks. All funds raised will go directly to the International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC) on October 1, 2012 to be used for scholarships to attend the 8th Annual conference in Florida.
Please join with AROMidwifery in its fight for justice by clicking the button below and donating. Even $10 can help give one more midwife the space needed to feel safe and connected to her own birth community and empowered in her calling to become a midwife. Think of all the times you have wanted to do something but didn’t. Let this be the time that you do something.
Neva Gerke, Student Midwife
p.s. By donating today, you can take action by helping a birth worker of color gain valuable skills and support at the Black Midwives and Healers Conference. Now is the time to take action.
p.p.s. If you are yourself a student or birth worker of color who would like to apply for funds, here is the application page on the ICTC’s conference site.