A BLACK MAN’S VIEW OF BLACK INFANT MORTALITY- WE NEED A REFORMATION

Lindell Singleton

Based on the best available data, this year at least 7,998 African-American infants will not reach their first birthday. Since one of four African-American babies born in the U.S. is a little Texan, our state can expect to lose 2,000 newborns. 

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky said in a hearing: “I am constantly reminded that we face a health disparities crisis right here in the U.S.” At the same hearing, Dr. William Callaghan, Senior Scientist Maternal and Infant Care, said, “The infant mortality rate for black infants is more than twice that of white infants.”

If, indeed, this has risen to ‘crisis’ level, then we must approach it with more diligent, determined action than ever.

April 11-17, 2019 is designated #BlackMaternalHealthWeek. I intentionally wanted until this month to write this column given the nature of the blended crisis: Black infant mortality, Black Maternal Mortality and Maternal Morbidity. This is a crisis that demands our attention more than one week out of 52. Perhaps it is the failure to sustain focus on these twin crises that has allowed them to become a scourge on America’s most vulnerable.

The U.S. hovers around 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births for Caucasian babies and about 13.3 for African American infants. There are also stunning numbers on maternal morbidity. Nikia Lawson, a doula and childbirth educator in the Tarrant County birth community reminded me that at the state level, African American women comprise 11% of birthing mothers, but more than 30% of deaths that meet the standard of black maternal deaths.  But Texas isn’t the worst. The data for New York and Georgia is jaw-dropping.

This is not a recent phenomenon.

The U.S. Public Service issued this statement in 1930: “In every area of the U.S. that we studied, the Negro infant mortality rate was higher than the corresponding rate for whites.”

The Children’s Bureau, a division of the Federal Security Agency, published this in 1947: “The death rate for white mothers is 18.9 per every 10K live births while the death rate for Negro mothers is 50.6.  Although obstetric care has undergone a revolution in this generation, Negro women has not benefited.”

As early as 1932. Eldridge Sibley, Ph.D., wrote this after eight years analyzing birthing practices and racial differentials in Tennessee.  “If you took white infants and the same number of Negro infants, our study shows that 66 white babies will die before reaching a year one birthday and 123 Negro babies will die. For mothers, it will be seven whites who die and 15 Negroes.”

Going as far back as we could gather statistical data, the differential consistently remains 2:1 or greater. The pattern is persistent and pernicious. And the answers, perhaps, are not as elusive as they would appear to be.

Current metrics and historical trends clearly reveal we’re dealing with vulnerable populations — and, it isn’t singularly about poverty.  Recently, a globally known tennis player — a black woman — nearly died from complications surrounding childbirth.  Her life hung in precarious balance and by media reports she was hours away from becoming another statistic. 

When an athlete of such renown — with access to state-of-the-art facilities, impeccable providers and prompt care nearly dies — what scant rays of hope light a path for rural or teen moms who can’t even find transportation to get to a clinic. Or, if they do wrangle an appointment, perhaps they find themselves awash in micro-aggressive, condescending treatment from the front desk to the exam room.

Sadly, immediate and extended families are eviscerated because of Black Infant Mortality and Maternal Mortality — but are there also broad societal questions demanding both answers and actions? I submit there is great deal more than can be done.

We’ve chosen the medium of the television documentary series to explore and illuminate matters these matters. That series is called: The Gap. There is no shortage of agreement that the problem exists, nor a vacuum of understanding of both the macro and micro factors which influence this crisis.  Yet, there is no coordinated effort and stimulus to methodically connect the dots in the mind of those who will be impacted the most.

Launching a creative endeavor with a broad societal implication can be problematic. Yet, is there any longer a true separation between art and politics in our nation. I assert that the access to content — and the democratization of barriers to entry for distribution of content — has further blurred the lines between politics and art.

So as producers and writers, our mission is to maintain a firm allegiance to truth and create a documentary series to explore how systems have coalesced to sustain this ‘gap.’

After a year of solid research for the pilot script and developing the overarching ‘series Bible,’ I assert that a literal ‘asymmetrical reformation’ is required close the gap. As much I loathe overuse of war analogies, they remain helpful metaphors because of the omnipresent nature of war in our collective experiences as Americans.

War is inseparable from life and death and its long-term human costs inestimable.   Thus, the question we shall raise in this series are primal in nature, going to the very ontological definition of life and death.  We expect these questions to anchor a series of medical, legislative, social and theological discussion that systematically will begin to close this gap. None of this is about antagonism between groups or political parties, but about persuasion and engagement with a view toward action.

Every baby deserves a chance to see a thriving, happy first year birthday. To ensure that happens, our mission is to close the gap. Film producer /director Lindell Singleton is developing The Gap as an eight-part documentary series for television. You can follow his blog (365plusone.org) or @Lindell153. If you are a Texas mom or dad and

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