the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards us
December 18, 2009 § 17 Comments
1. i have to admit that i put little energy into working to ‘change the system from the inside’. that isn’t my work. a lot of organizations, most organizations, that i see in the world–their identity is built on the idea of ‘we are not THAT’. and often times THAT includes people whom i love. and when i say ‘built on’, i mean that for a lot of organizations, collectives, networks, movements and other formal and informal social groupings–the foundation of their identity is building on marginalizing and excluding people whom i love.
and trying to change the foundations of an identity means changing the very identity of the movement.
2. for example. the natural birth movement. a lot of the convos that i see around the question: where are all the woc and poor women in the natural birth movement? why arent we hearing/seeing/reading more from them? what is keeping them away from *us*?
well, i dont think that is really the question that needs to be asked.
the question that needs to be asked is–what is keeping us away from them?
maybe it is because the natural birth movement does not want to be associated with woc and poor women.
3. i remember when i was first trimester preggers and a friend gave me some back issues of mothering magazine. and el compa and i had good laugh over trying to spot a brown face. cuz, yeah, there weren’t that many… nearly everyone in that magazine looked white and middle class. the interior shots of homes looked middle class. the stuff advertised was way out of my financial league.
now, yes, i know that is normal for a glossy magazine. glossy magazines normally portray white middle class and upper class images and values.
and it is to the benefit of the natural birth movement to portray itself as white and middle class. because white and middle class women have a lot of social power. and when people with social power join your movement, the movement itself gains social power, access to the mainstream, and social legitimacy.
we understand this almost instinctively.
making one’s movement predominantly white and middle class makes it more likely that one’s movement will succeed.
now, i believe that this is a paltry success. it is a success without justice.
4. what if the images of the natural birth movement were primarily of poor and colored women? what chances would the movement have of success?
and would that be a movement that the white middle class natural mommies would want to be a part of?
i doubt it. i dont see a lot of white folks running to join other movements centerd around marginalized women.
5. natural childbirth is presented as an issue of consumer choice. well, what if the movement’s social power did not rest in the hands of those who had the cash to consume products, classes, services?
would we be sending more time. energy, words on discussing the intricacies of breech birth, than on racial and economic disparities in birth outcomes? in maternal and infant mortality rates?
would we define high risk differently? is our definition of a ‘high-risk client’ based on the birth outcomes of white, middle class women? on the bodies and physiogonomy of the most privileged women in the world?
i am not stating that birth outcomes are based in the genetics of different women’s races. no, race is a social and historical construct with no biological basis. i am though saying that racism and socio economic class deeply impact the way the body functions. and that if we centered women who are marginalized, our understanding of how the racial and economic structural and historical forces impact a woman’s physiology and psychology in terms of the childbearing year, this knowledge, would be considered central to educating midwives and not simply periphery, auxilary, or a ‘special topic’.
6. right now in the natural childbirth world, the structural and historical oppressive forces that impact white, middle class women are considered central. the focus is on: deconstructing the authority of the ob/gyn (here are the facts and figures you need to argue with doctors–but rarely acknowledging the women who cannot afford to contradict their doctor), educating women about their consumer choices in childbirth (hospital, birthing center, home birth? herbs? pre natal yoga? birthing balls? doula? etc.–assuming a certain level of discretionary income, and that that income would or should be spent in post-back-to-nature-movement/industry), and legitimizing alternative birth choices in the eyes of the public, the medical establishment, and the law (certifications, diplomas, lobbying, insurance, etc.–as if the primary obstacle to legitmacy is lack of across-the-board standards, rather than the public perception of women who look like you as welfare queen, video ho, breeder, dirty, abusive, etc.).
in other words, the natural birth movement assumes that the primary obstacles that white middle class women face in terms of structural violence are the same obstacles that woc and poor women face.
would these be the same foci of a birth movement that centered itself around the voices and leadership of marginalized women? such as woc, 3rd world women, working poor women, survivors, queer women? women whose very bodies are the intersections of structural violence?
7. what does it say that many black n. american women i know balk at the idea of giving birth at home because it would make them look irresponsible? dirty? unfit as a mother? i read a lot of talk about how in black and latina communities women aren’t educated about birth. and that there is a lot of misinformation and myths and stereotypes about birth in our communities. but there is a lot of wisdom in our communities as well. wisdom that has been punished and silenced by structural violence for centuries. and still survives. maybe its time for some intergenerational healing and storytelling within our communities. maybe its time that the energy of the movement focus on supporting marginalized birth workers and mothers, rather than fighting with the medical establishment over protocol and acceptance.
8. when has the ‘trickle down theory’ ever worked in creating substantive social change for *all* women?
them that’s got shall get/them that’s not shall lose –billie
history and contemporary social/economic analysis shows us time and time again-that when the rich get richer, the divide between the rich and the poor grows wider, not narrower.
9. empowered change in marginalized women’s lives are made possible by those movements and organizations that center the voices and bodies of third world and poor women. not by those movements that leave the most vulnerable on the margins of their analysis and work.
and in the same way, that by making sure that the most vulnerable of us has health care, we are improving the health outcomes of everyone in society. centering poor women and woc in the birth movement leads to all women’s voices and bodies being more respected, empowered, and free.
but that would mean transforming the very core identity of the natural birth movement. changing the idea of who the movement is, and what their primary needs are, and what are effective ways to go about creating social change.
9. me, i work on the margins, to support the women whose bodies and voice are the intersections of violence. and i work to resist the systems and people who say and/or act as if we are not fully human. even though i am implicated in those systems of violence and violation.
because i know that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards us.