When Will You Rise Up? Black Babies vs. White Babies and the Statistic that Hasn’t Budged since the days of Slavery

IMG_9042I saw 15 clients today. I’m in the midst of business ownership hell due to external circumstances and I had to cancel my hair appointment yet again last week. No color or cut since…I don’t know when. “A while ago” as the boys would say.

But I can’t get this statistic out of my head. And as much as I don’t want to be staring a computer screen again right now here we are.

I finished this book over the weekend, “The Peculiar Institution”. It was over 400 pages written in 1958 by Kenneth Stampp. In the other anti-racist books I was reading they kept referencing this one. So I decided to go straight to the source. It’s incredibly objective. It dismantles every single proslavery argument systematically, logically, and with evidence and sources. Needless to say I was impressed but also saddened that this was written in 1958. 1958. And literally the same shit still gets said. Slavery was abolished in 1865 in the United States. It was abolished in England in 1708. Yeah let that sink in.

I don’t think I learned that in US History. Or that the founding Fathers were mostly slaveowners scared of England outlawing slavery in the USA. The Revolutionary War was about more than independence. It was about maintaining a free labor force. Follow the money. Always.

The one astounding fact that got me in this book though; in over 400 pages, was the infant mortality rates estimated by the author of African Americans versus whites in the Ante-Bellum South. The infant mortality rate was roughly slightly more than double for African American slaves than for white people. In other words twice as many Black infants died as white infants. He guesstimates that this was due to poor pre-natal care, intense manual labor up to day of delivery, and malnutrition, and as mentioned in this passage Tetanus. Which we now have a vaccine for. Ah hem. Vaccines save lives.

This figure struck me because I was vaguely aware that the infant mortality rate of Black babies in America in the year 2020 still is roughly double to that of white babies. See this website for the source from The Office of Minority Health. Infant mortality rate in 2017 was 11.0 per 1,000 babies born for “non-Hispanic Black” and it was 4.7 per 1,000 for “Non-Hispanic white”.

So literally. Since the days of slavery we have not as a society been able to prioritize the health of infants of Black women to decrease the rate of deaths in Black infants.

That’s fucked up.

Now I knew this statistic, that’s why it rang a bell for me while I was reading the statistic in a book from 1958 guesstimating from the 1800’s. I have been taught this statistic in my nursing school classes and it is often cited in literature (scientific journals as well as popular media to display the racial disparity in our country). But I was never taught that this rate, the percentage of Black babies dying being more than 50% of white babies- No I was never taught that has been the case since the days of slavery. I guess I should have thought that through in my head. But I didn’t. Privilege. That’s privilege. That’s my white privilege showing. Yours too I bet. Now the number of infant deaths has decreased in both races. Obviously 11 and 4.8 per thousand is better than the estimated 58 per thousand in whites and over 100 per thousand in Black people in the 1820’s and 1830’s. But that percentage gap- more than half- more than 50% more Black babies die than whites- that hasn’t budged.

Again. Fucked up.

I say this to all the white people reading this: If the fact that the disparity in the deaths of babies between races has not changed since the days of slavery- if that doesn’t make you feel rage deep in your toes rising into your belly and shame and grief and at least a basic understanding of why there is a movement called Black Lives Matter then you need to walk away.

You need to look yourself in the mirror and you need to ask yourself why the deaths of babies being doubled in a race different from your own since the days of slavery doesn’t encompass you with rage and shame. Why do you not see your privilege now? And if you can see it if you can feel it then what are you doing so in another year, not another hundred years, then what are you doing to prevent babies dying? What are you doing to advocate for Black Lives. Because make no mistake they are more at risk than white lives.

Now I’m not talking about the police. I’m not talking about gun violence.

I’m talking about babies. Again- to all you pro-lifer’s…why are you not sounding the alarm over these disparities of infant mortality rates? Where is your white lady outrage over the deaths of these babies?

Because I feel it. I felt it deep when I read that. Why hadn’t I learned about this in my US History classes? Why hadn’t I learned this in nursing school?

Why hadn’t I ever had to read this book in any of my schooling? Why did I have to read biographies on Jefferson and Washington which painted them as heroes instead of slaveowners seeking independence from a country that outlawed slavery in 1708.

And why can we not prioritize the lives on newborns? Why have we not been able to decrease the percentage disparity since the days of slave ownership?

Black Lives Matter. This is one statistic. There are unfortunately many more to explain why they need to matter more than they do.