Week 3 Summer Accelerated Class M.S. Student Responses: Culture & Race

By Z.

Class Mobility without Relief against Gender and Race Injustices

We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired” Fannie Lou Hamer[1]

Although many philosophers and thinkers believe that freedom and equality are the inborn rights bestowed by nature to all human beings, it is evident that throughout human history women have been deprived of these rights. They are often discriminated, victimised, objectified, exploited and dehumanised not only for being women but also on the basis of the engrained mindset of class, caste and race prevalent in the society. Their labour and rights are being devalued, neglected and framed within the patriarchal structureswhich have strong physiological, psychological and social impact and implications on mothers as well as children.

In the article ‘Work, Family, and Black Women’s Oppression’ Patricia Hill Collins has analysed the oppression of Black women perceived as “mules”. Contrary to the mainstream ideology of family prevalent in America, she underlines the fact that there was no distinction between the public and private sphere in the African-American families for Black women. Tracing the history of the changes in the nature of work and family in the Black community, Collins has classified the evolution by dividing the history into four eras. In the first era, when Blacks were slaves and had no social and political rights, women’s reproductive capacity was controlled and treated as an instrument of production of slaves by white slave-owners. The second era started with the abolition of slavery. Black men and women took to agriculture and other menial activities for survival. Some of them became wage labourers and women had to continue their perpetual low paid or unpaid work both outside and inside home. The third era began when women moved from domestic and agricultural work to factory work where they started getting some minimal benefits. They were able to start making groups and support fellow Black women and mothers. There was a paradigm shift after the second world war. They were given rights for education, housing and government service, which played a significant role in the upliftment of a small section of the Black community. A large segment of community remained in the same condition as they were earlier. Here I can say that a similar condition and situation occurred with the Dalit caste of India. The Dalits have not got adequate freedom and equality in Indian even after more than six decades of affirmative action. A small fragment of Dalits who have moved forward from previous socio- economical poverty and deprivation are also facing similar challenges, discriminations and stigmas from upper classes and castes .

The racial discriminations by the Whites has adverse consequences for Black women and their babies. As Keisha L. Goode has described in the thesis chapter entitled “Birthing, Blackness and The Body: Black Midwives and Experiential Continuities of Institutional Racism”   that in spite of all the professed medical health care policies , Black women, despite their similar socio-economic status, education, occupation and wealth as white women or other racial groups, continue to face high risk of maternal health problems such as premature pregnancy, infant mortality, maternal mortality- rate and low birth weight rate etc.

Survey studies show that the experience of social discrimination against Blacks has three forms in their life: 1. internalized racism mean internalization of negative stereotypes of images, 2. personally-mediated racism defined as experience of prejudice or “differential assumptions” and discrimination or “differential actions” by individuals and / or groups, and 3. Institutional racism in terms of differential access to goods, opportunities(Goode2015). These factors collectively work for increasing stress rate in Black women and are directly responsible for poor birth outcomes. Research demonstrates that the high rate of stress has psychological and as well as physiological impact on Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-encrodine(HPA)axis which regulates women’s internal hormones and protects the nervous system. Due to long term racial discrimination and stigma faced by Blacks within neighbourhoods and communities results in stress which has strong effect on HPA increasing the risk of chronic maternal disease.

Midwives serving Black mothers belong to the Black community and considered as the primary maternity care provider or birth worker. For a long time they have suffered from social prejudices and stigmas as dirty, ignorant, unfit, untrained, incompetent, evil women. We can clearly see the racial mindset of the Whites towards them in the educational documentary “All My Babies”, produced and sponsored for Georgia Department of Public Health by filmmaker George C. Stoney. The main purpose of the movie is to highlight the racial biases and prejudices prevalent in the practice of teaching and training of poor Black African-American midwives by white doctors, nurse and health inspector about cleanliness, hygiene, prenatal care, sterility practises and , causes of maternal death , etc. Miss Marry who is playing role of a respectful and successful midwife has done two kinds of deliveries. The first, of which focuses on a woman who has had several successful deliveries, while the other woman has had miscarriages due to unhygienic environment and lack of prenatal care. Under the supervision and care Miss Marry both women achieved successful home delivery. In this manner film shows the value and importance of midwives as maternal care taker. Medical obstetricians also realised their necessity and attempted to start “Collaborative care” work between physicians and midwives to improve the outcomes.

However, working under these circumstances Black women were totally refused by their Reproductive rights or justice. In “Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice” by Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried and others, an account has been provided as to how women of color raised their voice and generated awareness against the control, regulation and stigmatization of female fertility, bodies and sexuality. The article also focuses on these issues with reference to gender, class, race and nations. Through their movements and activities, they made an effort to achieve reproductive rights, reproductive freedom and reproductive health. They also tried to focus on reproductive rights as human rights and individual choice regarding her bodies rather than restricted by any institutional constraints about reproductive choice, birth control and family planning. It has been observed that official policies, nation’s welfare programme were aimed at a coercive and brutal control of Black women’s fertility for keeping a check on Black population. Activists and movements for women’s rights and choice for women’s control on their fertility have to be vigilant about the racial patriarchal backlash against the little achievements made so far.

[1] Slogan of first National Conference on Black Women’s Health Issues in 1983. “Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice” by Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried, …..2004.

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Posted in Summer Accelerated Class '15

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