"Institutional racism is a form of racism embedded as normal practice within a society or an organization. Many people of color experience it all the time in all aspects of their life..." - Aeryon Jackson, 10th Grade
Institutional racism is a form of racism embedded as normal practice within a society or an organization. Many people of color experience it all the time in all aspects of their life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has discovered that about 700 women die from problems concerning pregnancy or childbirth. However, the CDC’s data goes to show that black women do have it the worst, dying 2.5 times more often than white women.
Assistant Professor in the department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Brittany Chambers, works on understanding how structural factors such as racism impacts maternal and child health outcomes. She partners with community members and organizations across the Bay Area to make sure that their voices are reflected in her research. For the past 7 years she has been working in the Black maternal health space and has spent a lot of time researching key issues that impact these outcomes.
“What research shows is regardless of Black women’s access to resources such as higher education, we still have a higher risk of dying during childbirth. A lot of research is now moving towards understanding the root cause of these inequities which is racism,” Professor Chambers said. “ I have been leading work in this space to talk with Black women to understand how racism shows up in their communities and impacts their pregnancy experiences and birth outcomes. I will be using these stories to develop a racial equity training to improve Black women’s care experiences and outcomes.” Her research has underscored others and has shown that Black women are not being offered treatment options or being listened to during childbirth at the same rates as white women.
Professor Chambers has had personal encounters with institutional racism throughout her life. Her experiences started as a teen parent trying to navigate parental care. “As a teen I would hear nasty comments such as ‘you are too young to be having a baby,’ and when expressing pain during pelvic exams told, ‘you weren’t saying that when you got pregnant.”’ Similar experiences have happened when Chambers received care from non-Black doctors as an adult and when going with her children to their medical care appointments.
When asked what she thought she needed to be done in order to take a step forward towards lowering the death rates of both Black infants and women, she responded that we need to center-in on Black women’s experiences and voices. “Black women have the answers to address this issue,” Chambers said. ”The problem is, most funders are not funding Black women researchers who use community-based participatory approaches to understand this issue.”
Ifeyinwa Asiodu, a public health nurse, researcher, educator, and lactation consultant has been registered for over 7 years. She is also an Assistant Professor at UCSF where she teaches within the Midwifery and Advanced Public Health Nurse specialties and Doctoral program. “I also conduct research which focuses on the structural barriers and facilitators to breastfeeding, chestfeeding, and the use of donor human milk in Black communities.”
One thing Asiodu thinks needs to be done to lower the deaths of Black infants and women is listening to Black women and birthing people. Centering their voices, concerns, and experiences. That, along with acknowledging the role and impact of racism on Black women, birthing people, and their infants.
“In addition, we, healthcare providers, health systems, insurance payers, and others need to work toward addressing systemic racism and anti-Black racism within their environments,” Asiodu said. “while completing self-reflection to identify the ways in which they themselves, perpetuate or dismantle racism.” Along with investing in community-led initiatives and diversifying the healthcare workforce, according to Asiodu, can go a long way to improving the issue of maternal mortality, morbidity, and infant mortality—ultimately achieving health equity.
“I’m a Black woman physician,” said a Reproductive Justice Focused Board Certified OBGYN & OB Hospitalist, Associate Professor, and a Sexual, Reproductive and Perinatal Epidemiologist. “Less than 2% of all physicians are both Black and female, even in 2020. Very few Black women and Black women physicians are at the level of associate Professor. When I was hired in September 2019, I was the only Black women OBGYN at the level of Associate Professor. I was fired from my first job by a white male OBGYN because he was threatened by me—even though I was the number 2 highest producer in the hospital—as the only Black woman OBGYN and the most junior,” she continued.
“I was fired from my second job,” she continued.” By the CEO at the hospital which was a white woman because my Nigerian woman partner and I refused to be treated poorly - caring for patients in an unsafe environment. My partner and I were fired on the same day. The hospital illegally took out wages we made by supporting the births from the County at the “private white hospital” across town. I filed a lawsuit and I won all of my wages back. Big white institutions think we’re afraid to fight back. I’m not the one.”
Her work, research, clinical practice, and policy/advocacy examines the causes of deaths and near deaths, and creates solutions to prevent deaths and near deaths as an OBGYN and Applied Epidemiologist who works exclusively in community hospitals. She also tests new theories and measures to demonstrate how different types of racism exist in health care interactions, communication, counseling and decision making.
When asked what she thought needed to be done in order to lower the death rates of both Black infants and women, she responded with “disincentivizing killing Black infants and women.” Along with that, creating a policy where hospitals that receive Medicaid or Medicare funding only get 25% of their reimbursement if the death gap between Black and White is 2x or higher.
With that being said, it’s obvious that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to get justice for the Black women and infants that have to experience continuous institutional racism from the people that they intrust with their lives.