Taking Back Our Lives: Should we grab our babies and our firearms too?

Taking Back Our Lives: Should we grab our babies and our firearms too?

An Invitation to Co-Create Culturally Attuned and Contemplative Spaces for Black and Brown Doulas Working to Save Black and Brown Lives

By Tia L. Murray, Co-Founder & CEO, Harambee Village Doulas

As a black mother of 5 beautiful children, nobody had to show me the data to believe that we have a problem with the way we treat black and brown people in this country, even to this day. However, because we are situated in one of the worst states in the nation for black inequities, it is imperative that I premise what I am going to say next, with a baseline understanding of where we stand in respect to racial disparities in maternal and child outcomes in Wisconsin. Although the way in which racial disparity data is presented is very deficit based and violates our womanhood as black women, it highlights something that all of us must bring our utmost attention to. What it most importantly highlights, are the invisible shackles that still hold us down as black and brown people; slavery still exists in the form of structural racism embedded in every realm of our socio- ecological experience as black people in this country for the last 400 years.

Images from the recent rally in Wisconsin (below) are real time examples of structural racism at play, even in the midst of a global pandemic killing our fellow Wisconsinites. These protesters were denied a permit to organize, however assault rifles en tow, defied social distancing mandates from local and federal government. As disturbed as I was to see these images, I was nowhere near surprised. It did make me wonder, however, if this would have ended differently if these were black and brown Wisconsinites, holding assault rifles, defying local and federal guidelines, with no permit to organize?

From what we know so far, black and brown folks in this country are shot, jailed or even killed merely for having a broken tail light, selling a cigarette, having a permit to conceal and carry, or merely for just being black or brown….but what we see below is ok? In the face of racial disparities in Wisconsin, which the COVID-19 has unfortunately spotlighted so brightly, do guns have more rights than black and brown birthing people and babies in Wisconsin? Is this not a real time example of modern day racism and its deeply embedded roots within every socioeconomic sphere you can imagine?

Racial disparities in the United States are complex and multi factorial. However, what we know is that racism is what drives racial disparity, and not race itself. Race is a socially constructed concept. A recent growing body of evidence has demonstrated that racism, oppression, discrimination, and historical trauma are linked to negative health outcomes, and that toxic stress may be contributing to the disparities that we are seeing in birth outcomes for black mothers and their infants (WIlliams & Mohaamed, 2009). In the United States, even when controlling for socioeconomic status, Black birthing people are disproportionately at risk for adverse birth outcomes for both the mother and the baby. Racial disparities in this country our man made, residual, impacts of chattel slavery, and are largely a result of pervasive and persistent structural and cultural racism (Jones,1997), (Jones, 2000). When compared to white women, Black women in the United States are more likely to have a child die before the age of 1, more likely to die because of childbirth related causes, more likely to have a preterm birth, and more likely to have a low birth weight baby. In Wisconsin, black babies are dying before their first birthday at 2 to 3 times the rate of white babies. Black women are dying from pregnancy related causes at 5 times the rate of their white counterparts- often times from causes that are preventable.

As I was preparing for my blog post, I conducted a google search of “pregnant black women with guns”, intently looking for provocative pictures of black pregnant women holding guns or other firearms. Although not surprising, what this simple image search produced, was an additional example of structural racism in this country. All of the images of pregnant women with guns did not appear to be women of color, and the images that did represent a black woman were news article links- either describing black pregnant women being shot by police, or black pregnant women going to jail for concealing and carrying (with proper permitting).

I think the evidence is clear, and that I have painted a picture of the true reality of the health of our state, and the health or our most vulnerable. These disparities do not disappear in the midst of a pandemic. We also know that babies don't wait for pandemics to be over! In the United States, 10,000 babies are born a day. I would also hypothesize that this pandemic will only worsen racial disparity, in all measures. This means we ALL have work to do!

As emerging evidence has demonstrated that doulas are part of the solution to buffering racial disparities in maternal and child health outcomes, our agency has been working to dismantle disparities for all marginalized communities. Our work has not stopped in light of the COVID-19 pandemic; it has actually exponentially increased. Our work also brings much needed attention to the fact that we need true policy, systems and environmental changes to see more positive birth outcomes in communities of color. I could not ignore what we witnessed on April 25th in this state, and am even more disheartened that our local governments remained silent. Should all of us “angry black women” gather our babies on our hips, strap our riffles on the other and protest at the capital, as well? ...To stand against killing our babies, ourselves, our men, our families, our communities? Would our local and federal government remain silent?

Of course, fighting fire with fire is never productive. However, it was imperative to shed greater light on this very issue. To face the unfortunate reality that any gathering of black or brown bodies, in addition to carrying firearms will equate to jail time or black lives lost, feels very upsetting. History has also shown that even pregnancy will not protect you from being jailed or killed for being black.

Most importantly, however, as a black woman and black doula navigating everyday stressors of being black in this country, I felt the need to call attention to the fact that doulas also need to be held. Although we act as a buffer and witness to real time inequities, and we identify with the same struggles and experiences as our clientele, we are ready and able to be present with others who are suffering the confounding stress on the black body, especially now during COVID-19. Seeing images like those at the WI state capital of armed white men openly concealing and carrying while our government officials remain silent…. while black and brown babies continue to die…. is unacceptable to me.

We, as doulas of color, have to keep our light on to keep doing the same for others. We must be able to use our black beauty and love to redirect our attention, in the present moment, non-judgmentally and find our joy. I ask us all - what can WE do, NOW, to fight for our lives and to hold ourselves in this moment.

I would like to invite all black and brown doulas in this fight to save black and brown lives to join me in an upcoming live session, in response to this blog. I plan to hold a live session inviting black and brown doulas to participate in culturally attuned contemplative practices while reflecting on our experiences as black and brown people and black and brown birth workers entrenched in reproductive justice work. I encourage all black and brown doulas in the fight to save black and brown lives to join me in thinking about how contemplative practices can play a role in our work and our own lives. We must be held ourselves, so that we are able to hold others, and because we deserve to thrive, as well.

If you are interested in participating in the live session, please fill out this interest form and we will send you more details when we have a date scheduled.



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