The Quiet Erasure of Black Motherhood

Intersectionality is defined as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” I never truly understood the role intersectionality played in my life until I educated myself and experienced its effects personally. A few years back, I read an article about Serena Williams’s struggles giving birth as a Black woman. I soon discovered that she was not the only Black woman who felt mistreated and disrespected by doctors in the medical field. Black women are 2-6 times more likely to die during childbirth than their White counterparts. I read several things that made me question the idea of becoming a mother myself. It has been stated by several people that Black women represent the two things our White Supremacist society has been working hard to oppress for centuries, women and Black people. I would like to shed some light on the effects intersectionality has on pregnant Black Women.


To understand the pain and the trauma surrounding pregnant Black women, we must first examine the historical reasons as to why this problem exists today. A man hailed as the “Father of Gynecology” named Dr. James Marion Sims, developed tools and techniques related to women’s reproductive health in the mid-to-late 19th century. Dr. James Sims developed these practices by conducting his “research” on enslaved Black women who were unable to consent and who were given no anesthesia. His reasoning behind this was rooted in racism. At the time it was believed that Black people could not “feel” pain to the same degree as White people. When his techniques were perfected, they were conducted on White women using anesthesia. Taking the time to understand history can help us move forward when we examine past mistakes critically. At times, problematic assumptions made in the past continue to inform flawed practices in the present.


Fast-forward to the present day, and Black people are still believed to feel pain different. Although the notion is not explicitly taught in medical school, the mentality and racist bias still exists. There are no exceptions made for Black women. Often times, their complaints of pain are dismissed by doctors, which can put them in very life-threatening situations.


How can tragedies like these be prevented? There are a few strategies that people have come up with to stop Black women from dying during pregnancy and pregnancy related causes. First of all, countering the implicit bias amongst medical professionals. It is evident that having racist medical team would not help to rectify the situation in anyway. I also believe that making more female Black doctors available to patients would greatly help the situation. Seeing an individual who looks like you who can help amplify your voice can be integral to dismantling racist practices that still exist in our hospitals. Secondly, amplifying the voices of those who have been affected could have the potential to greatly impact this issue. It’s impossible to fix a problem if people aren’t aware of it. Lastly, prioritizing maternal mental health during pregnancy and after pregnancy. One’s overall health does not solely depend on our physical well-being but also on our emotional well-being. Check out this website for more information. Giving pregnant Black mothers the resources, they need has the potential to be lifesaving.


In closing, intersectionality plays itself out in several dynamic ways in our lives, and while the hardships of intersectionality are not limited to the experiences of Black women, telling these stories can encourage other groups who are affected by such problems to bring them forward, so we can all advocate for each other.