How Racism Kills Black Babies

The latest issue of The Nation has an article that asserts racism is killing black babies. The story that fails to name a specific party responsible for wielding such extreme racism (the reader is left to presume white guilt, of course) also fails to identify a murder weapon. It’s a tale as sensational as its headline, which is a shame and a disservice to the African American community whose infants are 1.5 times more likely to die at birth than their white counterparts. Fifteen minutes of Googling will net you the real cause of black infant mortality, a result social welfare advocates readily clinging to presumed racism would prefer you ignore.

Two studies were published in 2008 that drew significant attention to the causality of infant death in the black community. Both drew a direct link between a minority woman’s risk for preterm delivery and her living conditions. If a black woman lived in a “hypersegregated” or “socioeconomically deprived” area she was at increased risk of preterm birth.

Following up on these theories in 2011, the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a division of the National Institutes of Health, published a study on the disparity in infant mortality rates between African American babies and white and Hispanic infants. They concluded that “environmental exposures” yet to be included in a rigorous study were most likely responsible for the higher rate of death among black infants.

To get a better understanding of how environmental racism can impact infant mortality, I turned to Minority Nurse:

There are also certain lifestyle factors that place a woman at greater risk for preterm birth, such as late or no prenatal care, smoking, drinking alcohol, using illegal substances, domestic violence, lack of social support, extremely high levels of stress, long working hours with long periods of standing, and short time between pregnancies (less than six to nine months between birth and the next pregnancy). According to the March of Dimes, some medical conditions during pregnancy may increase the likelihood that a woman will have premature labor—e.g., infections, high blood pressure, diabetes, clotting disorders and being under- or overweight prior to pregnancy. While all of these factors could apply to any woman of any race or ethnicity, some of them—such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and intimate partner violence—occur in disproportionately high rates among women of color.

In other words, the vaguery of racism isn’t killing black babies. Unhealthy behaviors common to individuals experiencing gross stress, perhaps even “intimate partner violence,” are killing these children. Now, what The Nation observed is starting to make sense:

 The segregation isn’t changing, the incarceration rates aren’t coming down, and people she knows don’t trust the medical community. … The horizon seems particularly bleak for young women who get pregnant. “We do have a stigma of ‘She’s not married; she messed up; she’s young—she ain’t going to be nothing.’ And that attitude gets into her mind and goes to the baby.”

This description better suits the definition of “therapeutic alienation” than racism. Therapeutic alienation, a term first coined by John McWhorter in his book Winning the Raceis “alienation unconnected to, or vastly disproportionate to, real-life stimulus, but maintained because it reinforces one’s sense of psychological legitimacy, via defining oneself against an oppressor characterized as eternally depraved.” McWhorter identifies this ghetto culture mentality as the result of a “multigenerational dependence program” known as welfare that created the “hypersegregated, socioeconomically deprived” neighborhoods in which young women who get pregnant are treated with ignorance and condemnation.

Yes, racism has played a role in the rising black infant mortality rate, but not in the way The Nation wants you to believe. To be sure, racism motivated the New Left to legislate conditions establishing the ghetto culture that has proven lethal to black infants. But, the ghetto community’s willingness to play along also plays a significant role in creating the kind of stressful environments that lead to premature birth and infant death. Purporting inflammatory notions like “racism kills black babies” does nothing more than fuel the victim mentality that is destroying the black community while stoking racist flames in the culture at large. If The Nation truly cared about the infant mortality rate in the African American community, they’d skip the pandering and focus their efforts on replacing the welfare state with truly effective forms of community aid.