How the tragedies of slavery still haunt us today

In an ABC News segment titled, “Black Maternal Mortality in US and its Slave Origins,” narrated by Janai Norman, she explores the daunting stories of Black expecting women dying at a higher rate than any other ethnic group from childbirth complications.

The stories highlighted in this segment display Black mothers who voiced their health concerns and were ignored by hospital professionals several times leading to their deaths. It’s not coincidence, its bias. Professor Deidre Cooper Owens, author of Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology featured in this segment explains:

“Class and status tend to matter. The higher up you go, the better protected you are. That doesn’t exist for Black women because we’re all experiencing racism in the same ways. So, when I walk into the office no one knows if I’m married, have a PHD or what my income is. The assumption is, I might be lying, maybe I’m promiscuous maybe I don’t eat well. I should still be given fair treatment and equitable treatment by my doctor.”

The common biases held by medical professionals often lead to mistrust among Black women and their medical providers. A cycle that usually has deadly consequences and dates back centuries ago.

How did we get here?

Slavery and colonization were motivated by racism, and many if not all the biased feelings towards Black people that still exist today derived from it. The segment explains how enslaved Black women were experimented on in the 19th century by OBGYN doctors to cure specific physical ailments unbeknownst to the majority. James Marion Sims was coined the “Father of Gynecology” due to his practices that left a legacy of non-consensual experimentation on enslaved people without anesthesia.

Today, some doctors have chosen to fight against the health disparities that
still exist—making people aware of Black women’s challenges and
encouraging other medical professionals to check themselves.

Furthermore, it is stated that:
“Black women in American die nearly 3 times more than white women
making the United States one of the most dangerous developed
countries in the world for Black women to give birth and doctors say
the issues for mothers extend through pregnancy and postpartum and
also impact Black babies who are more than twice as likely to die than
white babies.”

What measures can be taken by medical professionals to prevent this?

Medical professionals must first understand why there is distrust in the medical system among the Black community. They must also ask themselves if they practice the same level of care across the board among all racial groups.

Black women depend on hospital staff and negligent care can mean life or
death for some women as we have seen. Some of the deaths that occur are
100% preventable, and the fact that they aren’t is unfathomable.

For fathers like Charles Johnson featured in this segment, who lost his wife
during childbirth, the pain runs deep knowing doctors could have prevented
her death. Mr. Johnson has used this unimaginable experience to affect change by starting an advocacy group called 4Kira4moms, working to
change laws and prevent medical staff negligence that leads to maternal
mortality. He presses on in her memory each day and makes sure that their
children never forget that their mom is forever in their hearts.