Letter of Support for Midwives of Color Chair and Inner Council Resignation

June 1, 2012
Letter of Support for the Former Chair and Inner Council of the MANA Midwives of Color Section
We, the undersigned, express our unconditional support for the statement and actions of the former Chair and Inner Council of the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) Midwives of Color Section and all midwives of color who feel represented by these positions. We wish to acknowledge the experience of many, many years of devaluation and dismissal of midwives of color by the professional midwifery community. We acknowledge the interpersonal racism that has characterized the interactions in general between midwives of color and white midwives. We also acknowledge the deep institutional racism within midwifery in the United States as a whole, which characterizes our professional organizations, educational institutions, learning environments, conferences, and group interactions. We acknowledge that this situation has its roots in the systematic elimination of midwives of color over the course of the 20th century by the white-dominant health care system’s neglect, devaluation, and violation of the bodies, ways of knowing, and communities of people of color. We acknowledge that, in some cases, white midwives were complicit in this elimination. We acknowledge the fact that, among many negative effects, this institutional racism continues to exclude and marginalize students and midwives of color today. Moreover, in failing to confront this legacy and to actively work to transform it, the midwifery profession as a whole participates in limiting access to care for women of color, and perpetuates the structures of racial and economic injustice and inequity in maternal and infant health in the United States and internationally.

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.

Danelle Aurilio
Monica Basile
Stephanie Dank
Sarah Davis
Kristin Effland
Jessica Frechette-Gutfreund
Neva Gerke
Eve German
Wendy Gordon
Tehmina Islam
Jess Kreuger
Racha Tahani Lawler
Annie Menzel
Angelita Nixon
Nechama Rama
Gretchen Spicer
Marijke van Roojen
Krystel Viehmann
Lena Soo Hee Wood
Additional Signers:
Megan Hill
Kathryn Haines
Anna Deligio
Jennifer Linstad
Terje Riisnaes
Sarah Joy Day
Therese Robinson
Sherry DeVries
Brooke Casey
Katie McCall
Savita Jones
AnnMarie Rian
Marcy Andrew
Audrey Levine
Indra Lusero
Arya Pretlow

36 thoughts on “Letter of Support for Midwives of Color Chair and Inner Council Resignation

  1. In the days since we decided to leave MANA, (we Sistahs, “The Break Out Six” as I have affectionately named my new Sisters for Another Mother(s)), so much has happened. Not the “she said – they said”, alleged lies, denial, syndrome labeling, and handka’chief head comments that could have distracted or derailed the “Courageous Conversations” that needed to take place in US midwifery.

    What has taken place is more on the meta-physical plane. We have grown exponentially with the reflections, soul searching and questioning (ourselves, others and the organizations we voluntarily join) we have each done in the last few weeks. I do not mean The Break Out Six, I mean All Of US (yall included). Each of us has gone to some pretty painful and scary places and seen and heard some pretty painful and scary things. And we are better for starting this journey! We “Put on the Big Girl Panties” and have begun the work!

    We have grown so much — each word of support; apology; “shout out” has uplifted all of us (the sender and the recipient). We have shared words, music, posters (Racha’s wins the price!!), photos, and all 22 chapters of R. Kelly – Trapped In the Closet. No matter how painful this journey is, we have not wanted to stop relating to each other – we were not willing to abandon this journey and each other. We have not lost our focus on the true issue – what concrete, feasible, replicable and sustainable strategies are we developing to save mothers and their babies.

    Each of us is so much bigger than the organizations and institutions we belong to.

    I have found myself slipping into tears whenever anyone asks me about what is going on in US midwifery. I must admit I have had my playground “you made me cry, so now I have to beat you up” moments too. And a few of these tears are for friendships/comradery that will never be repaired.

    But more often the tears open my eyes to the many Sistahs and Allies that I/we now have – the tears have sprouted new visions of coalitions who can do the hard work of developing concrete, feasible, replicable and sustainable strategies for saving mothers and their babies.

    This journey has just begun and there will be times when we do not understand each other and our individual and societal patterns of mistrust, prejudice, privilege, fear and anger will get in our way. We are human and we will make mistakes. As Jessica Roach says, “Go lie down on the ground and breathe. You do not have to give it power, because again, it is wasted time”.

    Some of you I wish I could pick up the phone and call. Yall girls got ovaries!!! Proud to make your acquaintance. Don’t give up! We have epic work to do! La lutta continua!

    In solidarity,

    Claudia Booker, Midwife

  2. Very, very well said. So much clarity has obviously been granted through honest humility and self reflection. Thank you for sharing these words and being an example from which to learn.

  3. Powerful and perfectly articulated. A wake-up call and a lesson and a roadmap.
    There isn’t a single wasted word here. I support you all wholeheartedly.

  4. Thanks for the letter – I am also looking forward to seeing what is next from your group. There is a lot of work to do for our communities. My hope is that those of you who signed this letter will now translate your words into actions – primarily what your letter refers to which is raising funds for midwives and students of color. During my time I have read many letters similar to this one and never see action behind the words (well, seldom). Looking forward to seeing your fundraising efforts – the more money we can get for students of color, especially, the greater the shift will be. Thank you!

  5. I am inspired, so inspired by these words and the amazing efforts that I am sure are to be birthed from this transformational process. Thank you for sharing with the birth community and the world. As a white woman and young, newer doula, I needed to hear this, needed to read this, needed to learn/re-learn this that deep down I already knew, but that I had too easily forgotten. I will no longer be able to so easily “forget.”

  6. Although sometimes I am out of the country, etc., with MOMS, I am definitely interested in participating in this work. I’ve bookmarked the site, and am looking forward to getting more info about how to join in.

  7. This shift has been a long time coming. I would also like to be a part of the equation. I am in awe of the Midwives of Color, or as Claudia has noted, “The Breakout Six”. Thank you for creating this energy for transformation!

  8. Jennifer Linstad signs this letter with enthusiasm and as an ally in this work! Thank you for writing it.

  9. Most of the time I feel like we have made some progress in this world, but then I see something like this and it makes me wonder. In 2012, why is this an issue?!
    Thanks for the brilliant article. You have my full support.

    Terje Riisnaes

  10. It’s so true that it is the responsibility of all of us to address disparities. Thanks for stating it so eloquently. I’d be honored to sign the letter. I’m not currently on Facebook but will follow this blog with great interest.

  11. Very beautifully stated. Sometimes it takes a little fire to create change. There is nothing wrong with that as long as there is a TRUE solution to the problem’s at hand. I do believe that this occurence was necessary to address the issues that have plagued our communities for lifetimes. We needed this fire and I stand with you all in solidarity.

  12. I would like to be added as a signer to this letter. I wholeheartedly support this work!

    Arya Pretlow
    Student Midwife

  13. This is such a powerful and unequivocal statement. Thank you to everyone who worked on it. Healing our community can only begin once we’ve acknowledged that we have inflicted wounds, whether intentionally or not. I left the CPM Symposium with a profound sense of purpose and an acute awareness of how much work I need to do, both within myself and within my community. I am an ally in spirit but have not yet begun the really hard work.

    Over the past several months, spurred on by the Symposium, energized by our recent conference on eliminating disparities in maternity care access and outcomes, and, yes, catalyzed by the the midwives of color section’s resignation from MANA, the Midwives’ Association of WA State (MAWS) has begun to take action. At our most recent Board meeting, we had a strategic planning session in which we identified work that needs to be done in major focus areas, including policy, education, and quality improvement, so that our agenda moving forward is clearly about making birth better and safer for ALL mothers and babies. We have established the WA Midwifery Foundation and a scholarship fund for student midwives of color. We have developed a brochure on the benefits of midwifery care that is going to be distributed to Medicaid offices throughout the state. And we have committed ourselves, as a Board, to participating in anti-racism education and making it available to our members on an ongoing basis so that we can all join in the “courageous conversation” that is taking place.

    Again, thanks to all of you for saying what has long needed to be said. I’d be honored to have my name added to the list of folks who support this statement.

    Audrey Levine, midwife
    President, Midwives’ Association of WA State

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