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How being a colorblind birth professional hurts your clients

by | Sep 12, 2017 | Racism, VBAC | 8 comments

Recently, I had a great extended conversation on racism in birth work at a VBAC Facts training for professionals in Covington, LA. And I wanted to share it with you. One doula shared that we simply needed to treat all clients the same regardless of race. What she was saying is that we should be colorblind. Now, I felt the good intentions in her heart. I knew what she was trying to say. Because there was a time that I believed the same thing. I was so glad she spoke up because it kicked off a tough conversation that needed to be had.

I explained how treating all clients the same regardless of race was a disservice to parents of color (POC). Just like treating a first time parent and a VBAC parent the same is a disservice to the VBAC parent. In order to fully support POC, we have to be aware of, and honest about, the inherent and real challenges that they face because they are POC. Just like we can’t whitewash the extra challenges that come with planning a VBAC.

To act “colorblind” is problematic because the whole premise is to act like race doesn’t exist. It’s to act as if race itself is the problem. When in reality, RACISM is the problem. Further, being colorblind denies the reality that Native and Black moms and babies die at a higher rate than white moms and babies. And no matter how much education a Black woman attains or how much money she makes, those statistics hold firm for her as well. To act “colorblind” denies the realty of Black parents living in American society.

So being colorblind and treating everyone the same is not the answer.

Standing in the discomfort of the truth of how people of color are treated in this country is the first step toward the answer. And believe me, as I shared at the training, it’s uncomfortable for me, as a white woman, to talk about racism because who am I to lead this conversation?

BUT.

That fear cannot keep those of us who want to eliminate racial disparities in America silent. Because silence permits major social problems like racism to thrive. Further, people of color have been talking for years often falling on deaf ears. It’s time for white people to start listening and if I can help that process, I want to. Which is why I welcomed this initial comment and took extra time at the training to address how problematic being colorblind really is.

Yet when I talk about racism and racial disparities, especially on Facebook, I inevitably get white people who are really angry. They don’t see how it has anything to do with VBAC and they question, “Why do we have to bring race into this?” As if race has nothing to do with health care.

I talk about race because it matters. The mission of VBAC Facts is to improve access to VBAC through legislation, consulting, training (including about racism in health care), and amplifying the consumer voice including the voices of people of color.

Especially if you are a birth professional and/or talking about racism makes you feel mad or awkward, know you are not alone. I hear you. It is uncomfortable.

So right now you have a choice. You can either sit in the place of feeling weird or you can do something about it.

One simple thing is to learn more about how being “colorblind” really doesn’t help. This article is a great start. I especially like this quote:

For white folks to claim that race should not matter is to reveal that race has never negatively impacted us… When we invent blindness, we are only blind to our own racial power and privilege. Refusing to see systems of oppression and inequality is just another way to prevent their destruction.

If you want tools for moving beyond the “uncomfortableness” so you can be truly effective as you interact with those around you, I highly recommend reading the book Filter Shift: How Effective People See the World.

It’s true. As a white woman, the world interacts with me differently than it does with people of color. I do not experience racism directed towards me.

But I see it.

And because I can’t unsee it, because it is literally killing Black and Native peoples, and because it’s the right thing to do, white people cannot remain silent on the realities of racism and how it impacts health outcomes for Black and Native families across America. I stand in solidarity with people of color.

Until next time,

Jen

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8 Comments

  1. Thank you for doing your personal work and sharing this reality with the world.

    Reply
    • Aloha Jen,
      It’s Janis Bell-Ryan Bush formerly of Oahu–and your friend and Tsunami Rescuer! Long time No See. Cut to the chase, I live in La Habra now, a quick drive to you. In my continued mission to bring Peace on Earth One Gently Birthed and Breastfed Baby At a Time, I want to throw out another angle I face regarding racism.

      As you know, The Patient Bill of Rights and the Joint Commission’s Speak Up Campaign clearly state that one’s culture is to be respected in all things medical, whether it is an office visit or open heart surgery.

      So because ones Birth Culture may range from Knock Me Out and Wake Me When it’s Over to a spontaneous labor at home with or without a midwife and maybe only a Hawaiian Grandmother chanting in the corner…….my students seeking hospital birth “Birth Plans” are not called “Birth Plans”. They are called “Our Cultural Birth Values List”. Of course, short of having an Orange County Sheriff along with you in the hospital to enforce, “Patients cannot be restrained in positions against their will….unless they pose a danger to themselves or other” when denied freedom of movement…….my experience is that only people of color have a chance at being listened to when they boldly insist on playing the People of Color CARD. Blue-eyed blondes, such as myself, are easily dismissed because we are seen to have no Cultural Birth Values……..I guess it is assumed that the Caucasian Birth Culture must be: “Yes, Doctor! And exactly how high do you want me to jump!”

      When I started in this business 42 years ago, no one even noticed that culture had anything to do with “HOW YOU WILL BIRTH” per the hospital.

      So the beat goes on. You and I must find a time to get together and catch up. My number continues to be: 808-263-BABY/2229. New website to be up approximately June 1. California has rerouted some of my direction but never my passion!

      Reply
  2. Thank you. I shared on @nnjdoulanet fb page asking for braveness in discussing. I’ve been struggling with this topic! If you care to read more, Jen, pls visit birthvoice.com & you will see the recent blog I wrote “A Place at the Table”. Going to anti-racism workshop this weekend. So much happening around awareness & anti-racism that I have to believe it will all lead to progress. Thx again.

    Reply
  3. Thank you Jen! As a birthworker and Woman of Color with almost a decade of service, I am excited to see Jen address this issue for VBAC clients

    -Lauren RN, BSN, IBCLC, LCCE, CD(DONA), C-EFM, C-NRP

    Reply
  4. I love the vbac content but we’re pushing the political envelope here… However, if you want to be a liberal birth activist, that’s your choice. Where’s the ‘unsubscribe’ button.

    Reply
    • The impact of racism on accessing health care and health care outcomes has been well documented. If we want to eliminate racial disparities in health care, the first step is acknowledging that it’s happening. Saying that you want to avoid the conversation because you don’t want to get political is the opposite. I’m sorry to see you go. We all can be part of the solution.

      Reply
  5. This just means all the world. Thank you for being so informed, informative & willing to use your platform to advocate for us POC.
    With the revelation of probematic Birth Professionals & their hurtful stances on why Black Women have lower rates of survival (looking at you Ina May) I have found myself increasingly disillusioned & feeling helpless.
    At least I know there are a few well educated professionals who are in our corner & holding space for us.
    Seriously thank you from the bottom of my heart!

    Reply
    • I am doing what I can in my little sliver of the world. It can be so hard for white people to see the truth because we can live our entire lives perceiving race as a topic that we can opt in or opt out of. It’s time for us to opt in and work with people of color and allies to eliminate racial disparities. And we can’t do that unless we are willing and able to say, “Racism exists.”

      Reply

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Jen Kamel

As a nationally recognized consumer advocate and Founder of VBAC Facts®, Jen Kamel helps birth professionals, and cesarean parents, achieve clarity on vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) through her educational courses, training programs, and consulting services. She speaks at conferences across the country, presents Grand Rounds at hospitals, advises advocates seeking legislative change in their state, and serves as a expert witness in legal proceedings. She envisions a time when every pregnant person seeking VBAC has access to unbiased information, respectful providers, and community support, so they can plan the birth of their choosing in the setting they desire.

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