A Lamentation for Black Women

Rev. Shakira Sanchez Collins, MD, Editorial

A lament is a powerful spiritual practice outlined in the scriptures to express suffering and grief in hopes to petition God to intervene in the face of tragedy, injustice, and calamity. As a black woman, I weep.

Recently, a ProPublica investigation in maternity death revealed that Black women have higher maternal death rates regardless of their socioeconomic status. A New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene 2016 report showed that black women with college degrees are more likely to have severe pregnancy and post-partum complications than white women who never graduated from high school. The common misconception is that poverty and poor access to health carefully account for the high maternal death rate but further examination shows that chronic stress may be a significant contributor to poor outcomes.

By the time that black women are in their fertile years, chronic stress has potentially already taken a significant toll on the health and wellness of black women. The recent death of activist Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner who died in a chokehold by the police in 2014, demonstrates the deadly perfect storm of racism, sexism, and pregnancy that literally kills black women in their “prime.” Erica Garner died of a second heart attack at the age of 27, only a few months after suffering her first heart attack in her postpartum period. For women like Erica Garner, Shalon Irving, and countless others, I weep.

How commonplace is racism and sexism to the point where the daily and cumulative damaging effects of mistreatment go largely unnoticed. How disheartening it is for black girls to be viewed as less innocent and more often treated like criminals within the school and justice system compared to their white female peers. How tiring it is for black women to fight for equality in both black and white spaces alike. How frustrating it is for black women to do the same work only to get paid significantly less than their white and male counterparts. How demoralizing it is for black women to be sexually-harassed while walking on the street one minute and then be racially profiled in the store the next minute.

It is exhausting to be a black woman. For these reasons, we weep.

There is no magic pill that eradicates the harmful impact of discrimination that is prevalent throughout our society and healthcare system. Black women are dismissed and written off by health providers too often when it comes to their health complaints and symptoms. Systemic change takes time. Meanwhile, the maternal death gap between black and white maternal death rates continues to widen. What do we say to these things?

There is no immediate solution. There is no quick fix.

Black women, we must make our well-being a priority. Let us build supportive villages around each other during pregnancy. Let us advocate for ourselves, our family, and our friends when in healthcare settings. Let us take moments to rest our mind, spirit, and body. Let us be compassionate towards ourselves and each other. Let us live to fight another day. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

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