On Black Women in Our Healthcare Systems
T

he BBC Woman’s Hour Podcast has recently made waves by discussing the ‘disturbing statistics’, showing that Black Women in the UK are 5 times more likely to die in childbirth or due to pregnancy related complications than their White counterparts. 

Black Women Dying Disproportionately is Not News

The fact that this issue is finally being discussed on a mainstream platform is good, but the fact that we are treating it as news is not. On the contrary, it only goes to show that we, as a society, have not been listening because this is something that Black Women from all walks of life have been talking about for a very long time.

In addition to the plethora of everyday Black Women who have experienced this first hand, Beyoncé and Serena Williams almost died while giving birth and when they survived, they spoke up in a bid to raise awareness of the issue – not just in America but on a global level too. When I put this into perspective, it’s kind of difficult to tell what is worse – the fact that Black Women have been telling us that they’re being neglected and treated badly by the health care system and some of its workers? Or the fact that we have almost instinctively refused to hear or take them seriously?

Candice Braithwaite (‘Mummy Blogger’, Influencer and founder of ‘Make Motherhood Diverse’) said it best by stating that while she is ‘grateful to the BBC Woman’s Hour for sharing our well known fight […] to be grateful for the chance to be heard crying while still dying feels like a moot point.’ I couldn’t agree more.

The fact that this issue is finally being discussed on a mainstream platform is good, but the fact that we are treating it as news is not.

The difference between ‘Black’ and ‘PoC’ 

Social media has been awash with people reposting the Woman’s Hour Podcast social media promotion of the episode, while simultaneously voicing their outrage. What has also become more and more prevalent is the recurrence of the inaccurate use of the term ‘PoC’ (People of Colour) in this discussion. Oftentimes, when someone raises an issue about the Black experience – be that in health care, in schools, at work, or in encounters with the police amongst other examples, the narratives usually end up being conflated into a ‘People of Colour’ or, as we like to call it in the UK a ‘BAME’ (Black and minority ethnic) issue. This, in my opinion, is highly problematic.

I understand and agree with the fact that Black people are, in effect, people of colour or ‘minority ethnic’ people. I also understand and agree with the fact that people of colour tend to be discriminated in some shape or form – especially in White dominated space. What is paramount to acknowledge as well, however, is the fact that, historically as in the present, racism exists on a continuum – with White people being the main perpetrators and Black people being the main receptors. Everyone else pretty much exists somewhere in the middle of this continuum – not quite White, but not quite Black either. There are forms of discrimination and oppression that are specific to Black people. Now, while this doesn’t take away from the more generic forms of discrimination and oppression that all non-white people face, to deny its existence is tantamount to downplaying the unique experiences of Black people at best, and at worst, being a passive perpetrator of Anti-Blackness.

Racism exists on a continuum – with White people being the main perpetrators and Black people being the main receptors. Everyone else pretty much exists somewhere in the middle of this continuum – not quite White, but not quite Black either.

PoC can be anti-Black

In addition, if we fall into the habit of constantly misconstruing Black issues with those of the wider ‘BAME’ or ‘PoC’ group, we’re also ignoring the fact that many people of colour can be, and indeed, have been racist towards Black people. The fact that you are non-white does not mean that you cannot be anti-Black. Look at Gandhi, for example – an Indian icon, who devoted his life to the pursuit of many a noble cause. Even he considered Black Africans to be ‘inferior’ – not just to White Europeans but to the Brown Indians too. His racist stance towards Black people and Black Africans in particular was the reason why the University of Ghana decided to remove his statue from its campus. Gandhi wasn’t the only person of colour who felt this way about Black people. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Black and Female

In the western imagination, to be Black has almost always meant to be subhuman, or barely human, closer to the ape than to an actual human being. In ‘racial hierarchies’ across periods and continents, White has always been at the very top and Black has always been at the very bottom. It’s not something to be proud of but the past on which our present was built was founded on ideas such as this. Everyone else was in-between, but nobody has ever been considered to be lower than Black people in much the same way that nobody has ever been considered to be higher than White people. As such, in the case of Black Women’s mortality rates in the UK, for example, we need to refrain from comparing or likening this problem with problems that ‘PoC’ or ‘BAME’ experience, because while all Black Women are Women of Colour, not all Women of Colour are Black. 

Black Women are the only women who have to deal with the obvious gender inequalities that affect women of all colours, the racially motivated issues that affect Women of Colour, the unique issues that affect Black people irrespective of their gender, and the ones (such as misogynoir) that only affect Black Women. I am glad that the BBC Woman’s Hour has finally seen and spread this fact, even though for many Black Women and mothers, it’s too little, too late. My dream is that one day, all women and soon-to-be mothers will be able to access the best quality of healthcare. Till then, however, it remains a dream and that means it’s time to wake up because there’s a lot of work left to do.

While all Black Women are Women of Colour, not all Women of Colour are Black.

 

*This post was written collaboratively by Akaninyene and Alessandra.