We acknowledge that the midwifery history taught in most midwifery programs and promulgated at conferences fails to bear witness to the fact that midwifery history is, in the United States, largely a history of midwives of color. A history of direct-entry midwifery that begins in the 1970s with the “white revival” describes only the thinnest of top layers on a great foundation of centuries of work by African-American, Native American, Latina, Asian-American, and ethnically marginalized immigrant midwives. Similarly, a history of nurse-midwifery that begins with the differentiation between professionalized nurse-midwives from (women of color) lay midwives does not acknowledge the truth of midwifery history. We recognize that the process of licensing and certifying midwives after the 1960s in many cases served to marginalize and exclude practicing midwives in communities of color. We recognize that in many cases our legitimation as providers rested on deliberately differentiating ourselves as “better educated,” more “hygienic,” and/or more “scientific” than these midwives of color, while at the same time excluding them from these paths to “legitimate” practice. We posit that white midwives’ failure to acknowledge this history while laying claim to “traditional knowledge” from the 1970s onward is an act of violence, erasing midwives of color from the past and creating an “innocent” present for white-dominant midwifery.
We bear witness to the fact that midwives of color have devoted enormous energy to the endless task of explaining racism to one generation after another of white midwives who have generally failed to listen, and worse, failed to act.
We acknowledge the injustice of the fact that the white-dominated midwifery community continues to regard the health impacts of racism and colonialism as a special interest issue. This is a reflection of cultural dominance and a denial of basic human dignity. We bear witness to the fact that this has isolated midwives of color. It is unjust to expect midwives of color to bear the burden of addressing the problems of racial disparities in maternal and perinatal outcomes. We acknowledge that the dramatically higher rates of infant and maternal mortality for African American and Native American women in the US represent violence against women and children, and we are all responsible for addressing this. Denying the reality of these differences, disputing the causes, and withholding our full attention and energy from the problem constitute acts of gross negligence as midwives. We recognize the need to universalize an understanding of these concepts and integrate them into a shared world-view.
We acknowledge and support the outrage of midwives of color at constantly having to battle for funds for midwives of color and students of color to attend conferences and access quality education. We believe that this is a reflection of apathy on the part of midwifery organizations toward issues of racial exclusion within the profession and racial disparities in maternal and infant health. We have heard the message that funding and support for midwives of color and students of color must be primary aims for the profession of midwifery.
We acknowledge with sadness that the former midwives of color chair and inner council have felt that working within MANA has become an obstacle to their own work toward equity, empowerment, and health for moms and babies. We believe this issue is not limited to MANA as an organization and is evidence of deeply entrenched oppression within the midwifery community as a whole. Ongoing structural transformation and ally work is critical within midwifery organizations.
We understand that many white members of the midwifery profession might say that they have never been intentionally racist. However, both racism and disparities persist regardless of intention, and the cultural and interpersonal power dynamics at their roots have not been consistently acknowledged and addressed. Our stance is that working together to eliminate racism and disparities requires moving beyond the question of intentionality to a focus on effects.
We affirm our stance as allies. We recognize that words are not enough, and we commit to the ongoing work of listening, self-examination, and taking action as effective partners. As an initial step in support of the midwives who have stepped down from MANA we wish to take this opportunity to host a dialogue about the issues precipitating this event and on-going issues of racism within our community.
We invite all who share this commitment to join us in our work at: https://aromidwifery.wordpress.com/letter-of-support-for-midwives-of-color-chair-and-inner-council-resignation/.
Please see ‘Our Work’ for how to get involved at: https://aromidwifery.wordpress.com/our-work/
If you would like to be added as a signed on this letter, please comment, give your full name, and clearly request to be added. We will update the list regularly but cannot guarantee it will be updated immediately. Thank you for your patience.
Racha Tahani Lawler
Marijke van Roojen