So, our 2009 Tennessee Women’s Health Report Card came out last week and, needless to say, we didn’t do so well. We’ve been hoping to see some shift in our infant mortality rate, which remains abysmal. We have in five years lowered it from 9.4 per 1,000 to 8.3 per 1,000, but the African American community continues to suffer from an infant mortality rate of 16.4 per thousand.
There has been excellent coverage for the past year or so about the infant mortality rate in Memphis (though I feel I should warn you that, if you start Googling for it, you will see pictures of caskets so tiny that you will gasp out loud and want to cry), with the latest being this story in today’s Tennessean.
There’s a lot to unpack in that story, but I want to touch on just a few things. One, there seems to be no discussion about how our sex ed curriculum(s) have utterly failed a large segment of our population. Women have scarily little accurate information on how to experience our own bodies as for us and not for the pleasure and entertainment of others, we don’t know how to use birth control or even get hold of it, and, in the cases of young girls who end up pregnant, we don’t talk about the ages or character of the men who got them that way.
Two, look at how much blame is put on the women. If my math is right, and Judy Golden is 23 now, and her daughter died two years ago, that means Golden had four pregnancies (Brooklyn, the two miscarriages, and the living child she references) before she was 21. She lost at least one pregnancy because of domestic violence. And she feels to blame for losing Brooklyn because she didn’t eat right?
I mean, come the fuck on. Being able to eat right is way down on the list of problems Golden has. What about being able to be safe from violence in her own house? What about being able to control when she gets pregnant? What about not being blamed for her personal tragedies by the medical professionals who are supposed to help her?
Women in my state live in grinding poverty. We tolerate a lot of violence, often because we’ve been taught and have it reinforced every Sunday that violence is our lot. We’re not taught about our bodies or protected from predators because, again, if we don’t want to have kids, we should just keep our legs shut. It’s slut shaming and fat shaming and women blaming all in one ugly mess that results in our suffering the loss of our children.
And again, it’s that racism that bites white people in the butts. Because do I even have to tell you?
Once the face of infant mortality became Memphis, infant mortality in our state became a problem Black people have. Oh, those people in Memphis who just can’t get their acts together, those people in the projects in Nashville who just can’t get their acts together. You know how it works.
And so, as much as folks are working very hard to lower the infant mortality rate in this state, there’s a whole lot of passive resistance in the form of “eh, what can you do? You know how those people are.” So, you know, we’re pro-life, except when it’s hard or when we might help a lot of suffering black women.
I don’t even have to tell you the kicker, though, do I?
Here’s a map of infant mortality rates in the state of Tennessee by county. Memphis may have the most infant deaths in the state, but Memphis is also our most populated city. You take a look at those counties where the infant mortality rate is above 13 per 1,000 and you can see that the communities suffering the most are poor, rural, mostly white communities.
This kind of intersection of racism and classism is hard to talk about and I do a poor job (though I am of the school that says a poor job is better than no job at all). But I look at that map and I read what people say about infant mortality in our state and how they try to frame it as a Memphis problem. And I think about how that racism is hurting the white people in those counties.
I don’t know how you get that across to people, that, though they are often used as the poster-children of scary white racism–the Southern Redneck–,the racist power structure has no compunction about letting them suffer in order to make sure that black people also suffer. But it could not be clearer that this is the case, when you look at that map.
(Yes, cross posted to Feministe, hat tip to W. for the map.)