I had a craving for yakisoba and so I went to an Asian import store to grab some ingredients. The one I usually frequent was out of my way that day so I popped into a new place. I was the only white person in the store, no big deal. I entered the store and smiled at the first person I saw, they acted as if they didn't see me. The store clerk, walked right by me as if I was invisible, the other shoppers avoided me (literally left the aisle when I walked into it.) A store full of introverts perhaps? No, because I noticed that they were smiling and communicating to each other. The other customers got welcoming greetings and friendly chatter at checkout. They were sending me a message loud and clear that while they wouldn't turn away my business, they did not want me in that store. When I went to check out I thought for sure that if I was friendly and kind maybe then I could get a smile, or really at that point I would take acknowledgment of existing. The clerk never looked at me, never said anything, except for my total and I had to pack up my own groceries. I left with a feeling inside me that I can't even describe. I have typed and deleted several attempts at explaining it and I just can't.
As I experienced this, I thought of how lucky I was that this was a rare occasion. Usually when I enter a business I am seen as a valued shopper and everyone is as friendly as ever, even if it's customer service mandated. In my community I am assumed to be a person worthy of trust and respect based on a first glance. This isn't fair, I am physically capable of stealing or causing trouble, but because of my skin color I am assumed to be "good." This thought makes me sick. I tried to imagine how a woman my age, a mother perhaps, who happened to have skin pigment in a shade much darker than my own, how would she feel as she goes through this feeling of not being welcome (or worse) in her very own community. Not once a year, but daily feeling that way.
There is a film called "When The Bough Breaks" that I watched for a birth doula training. It is about the horrific number of premature births in African-American babies. The numbers went down significantly after the civil rights movement, but then after not much time they began to skyrocket again. Take these two women into consideration and tell me who you think would be at risk for having a premature baby?
1. A white woman of low income, high school drop out, eating junk food and occasional drug use, no prenatal vitamins.
2. A black woman, high income, Masters Degree, eating organically well balanced meals, no drug use, taking prenatal vitamins.
That second woman, who is taking such good care of herself, she is at a much greater risk of having a pre-term birth. (I can't find the documentation on the study mentioned in that video but here is another study done on the subject comparing women where everything is equal except skin color.
So why are these women having babies early? The thought is that it all has to do with cortisol. This stress hormone is part of the magic that kicks labor into gear. Ideally, it is at a very low amount at the onset of pregnancy, as the baby develops and the pregnancy continues it naturally rises, once it reaches it's peak level then labor will begin. Except, what if a woman starts her pregnancy with already high daily levels of cortisol, then as it increases it will begin to trigger labor well before the pregnancy has reached 38 weeks.
If you asked these women if they have stressful lives, they may tell you things that seem very normal, like a busy work schedule, shuttling kids around to various classes, or worrying about an aging parent. However, that is not the stress that is raising cortisol to dangerous levels. Instead it is an invisible daily underlying stress, from being treated like an outcast, knowing that their sons, brothers, and fathers are at risk of being beaten or killed for no reason, the generations of worry and stress, being passed down. These things are what rise those levels of cortisol, not being late for soccer practice. This is the difference that effects birth outcomes for so many African-Americans. (The above info of what causes the underlying stress is not me making assumptions, but rather a representation of things that individuals interviewed on the film had said.)
So what can I, a white woman in a city of mostly other white people (thanks to some messed up laws made years ago.) do to make a difference? I'm doing all that I know how to do. I'm trying to bring awareness because I think if it's not in your face it's hard to even imagine. I can bring awareness with this blog but I can also bring it to my own children. Typically I don't like to tell my children negative news stories or harsh reality because I like keeping them innocent. Last year for 5th grade my daughter learned about the civil rights movement and she was going on thinking everything is better now, that all the work has been done. The truth is that it's not done and she needs to know that. She needs to know that there is still misunderstanding and hate out there that needs some light shined into it. The job isn't done. If she sees her white friends mistreating someone because of the color of their skin, I want her to know how important it is to do something. It's bigger than that one person, it's bigger than her.
It boggles me that we can live in this future of smart phones, and google cars that drive themselves, and such intelligent gadgets to make everything easier and yet we are still as a whole, acting so stupid. It's a skin color that is all. If you think black people are more likely to commit crimes then why are all the serial killers and mass-shooters white? Let's just agree that there are all sorts of people who can do bad things, and unless somebody is actually doing a bad thing, lets just assume that they are good and treat them with respect.