Crossing Over to Systematic Racism

Wednesday, 1 June 2011 20:36 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The phrase cross-over usually refers to musicians: those African American, Latin or Country stars who make it big in the pop charts.

This week, Women’s eNews celebrates a very different kind of cross-over. A four-part series Women’s eNews published on African American maternal mortality was published in the Amsterdam News, the leading newspaper for the black community in New York.

Elinor Tatum, its publisher, trusted the reporting of our inter-racial team to provide the entire series to her newspaper’s readership.

At the same time, Hazel Trice Edney, an African-American owner of a wire service for news media serving communities of color also distributed the Women’s eNews series. Trust again.

Meanwhile, I was attending a conference in Asheville, N.C., called America Healing: Building the Field and Connecting the Leaders Conference, sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation.  The foundation brought together leaders of organizations, large and small, who were dedicated to reducing racial bias in the United States. Most were activists in housing, in the juvenile justice system, in the health care system, in employment opportunities, in access to healthy food and in education.

America Healing addresses the scars most Americans bear from the systems designed when racism was at least permissible if not openly desirable. Yes, African American bear the heaviest load, but white participants talked about being punished for dating someone outside their race and losing their sense of community when their family moved to avoid living next to “Negroes.”

That was made clear during the small group session when each of the 24 participants was asked to talk about their personal connection to ending racism.

Most were African American and many mentioned their fear their sons would not live to adulthood or would be imprisoned. All knew the statistics about how much more frequently male black youths are murdered and that the U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 of all those incarcerated.

So moving were their concerns that when we were asked to write down what America would look like if racism was no longer systematized, I quickly jotted down as number one: 90 percent of the prisons in America were turned into condos.

I was responding to the parents in the room but also to the data Women’s eNews has gathered about African American maternal health and HIV among African American women. African American women die two to four times more often giving birth than white women. And two out of three of newly affected women in the U.S. are African American women.

My wish reflected my belief that if more black men were around when African American women gave birth, most likely the maternal mortality rate would begin to drop. Having someone you love with you can make all the difference in the world. Also, many health experts believe the high rate of HIV among African American women is related to the high rate of imprisonment of black men. They return home infected.

The 300 at the conference, and the partner news organizations delivering the Women’s eNews reports, know the real crossover will come when the African American maternal mortality drops to equal that of white women, HIV stops spreading and the prisons are converted to condos or, better yet, midwifery centers.

Now that would be racial healing!