I often wonder why so many of my black women friends have died so early. Specifically, I have had the joy of being a member of a black and white women’s support group for more than twenty-five years. During these years in our group of seven to nine members, all of the original white members remained healthy and three of the black members passed away. As a white woman, I not only miss my friends, but I have been bewildered by these differences in our mortality. Let me be clear—our members have very few differences in our backgrounds and life experiences other than race. We are all middle-class professional women raised in middle-class professional two-parent households. We are all college educated and about the same age. Race is what differentiates us. Recent studies on infant and maternal mortality in the United States reported in the New York Times Magazine by Linda Villarosa opened my eyes and gave me some language to explain what may have caused the early deaths of my black women friends. While none of the three women in our group died from causes related to maternity or childbirth, the findings in these studies seem to explain a lot more about health disparities between African American and white women than just higher rates of infant and maternal mortality. Infant and maternal mortality rates are, however, both shocking and what led researchers to their broader conclusions about the impact of race on health. Villarosa reports on several examples from recent studies:
- Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants—a racial disparity that is actually wider now than it was in 1850, fifteen years before the end of slavery.
- Education and income offer little protection. A black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a white woman with less than an eighth-grade education.
- Become aware of the deeply ingrained stereotypes in our society about people of color.
- Become aware of our own unconscious bias and white privilege and talk with other white people about what you are learning.
- Watch for and speak out when you see discrimination or unfair treatment of a person in any minority group.