Why is Anti-racism work important for doulas and educators?

Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy and postpartum-related causes than white women. Multiple factors contribute to these disparities, such as quality of healthcare, underlying chronic conditions, structural racism, and implicit bias. As CAPPA educators and doulas, we are committed to improving birth and postpartum for all people. Therefore, it is critical that we learn about racism and commit to being an ally. It could, quite literally, save someone’s life.

I speak from the experience of a white person. I’ll share my white experience and we’ll take direction from Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) about how to be an ally. As an ally, we are responsible for taking important conversations about race into our families, classes, workplaces, and communities (many of those spaces may be all white).

When I was a new parent, I was so curious to learn all the things I needed to know to raise confident, capable, and physically and emotionally healthy children. I read books, I talked with other parents, I talked with experts, I watched videos. I was hungry for the knowledge that I needed to do the right thing and understand the world of children’s growth and development so that I could be the best parent that I could be.

Maybe you can relate, as a parent, or perhaps with your CAPPA course study, you dove into with equal vigor because you were motivated and committed to learning something new.

We learn about something we’re passionate about with curiosity, humility, and openness. We have a “beginner’s mind”.

Now, I invite you to learn and teach about racism with the same urgency as a new parent wanting to know what’s best for their newborn baby. Settle into your “beginner’s mind” and listen with curiosity, humility, and openness.

A few things to remember about beginner’s mind:

  • Notice yourself. Self-awareness is key. Notice when you feel defensive, tuned out, or confused. Discomfort is part of the process.
  • Don’t lash out at others, just simply notice what’s going on for you. Dismissing or being defensive makes you an unreliable ally to BIPOC.
  • Take risks. Don’t be paralyzed by perfectionism.

Unlearning racism isn’t only about learning the right and wrong things to do or say, it’s a process of evaluating ourselves, our beliefs, and our blindness to fully show up for our black and brown friends and family, ready to LISTEN.

Please don’t say, “I’m not a racist.” Because a true understanding of anti-racism work is a commitment to a constant process of relearning, evaluating, and scrutinizing your learned beliefs about others and the world around you. Being an ally is not a destination. It’s a process. Remember that you’re always learning and evaluating. Being anti-racist is developing your own racial justice lens through which you can critique:

  • Yourself and your personal relationships (family and friends)
  • The history of our country that is widely taught
  • The news, headlines, and highlights
  • Education: what’s taught and who has access
  • Your workplace
  • Where you spend your money

Step One to becoming anti-racist (as a white person): Examine your experience, including white privilege.

Use your racial justice lens and see how your experiences and white history has set you up to have access and privilege that was unearned and handed down through generations.

White privilege doesn’t mean your life is easy. It just means it hasn’t been made unnecessarily difficult because of the color of your skin.

Here’s an excerpt from Dear White People, This is What We Want You to Do by Kandise Le Blanc:

“I want you to know that you are the byproduct of a successful racist regime that has capitalized off of Black oppression and suppression for centuries. I want you to realize that being racist is more American than apple pie.

I don’t want you to feel at ease.

I want you to take a look at yourself. I want you to shed light on the corners of your subconscious you’ve glossed over for years. I want you to know that you are racist because you have been trained to be so, and it’s within your power to become anti-racist.”

When was the first time you remember consciously knowing you were white? Knowing your race was specific to your experience and it could be different from others. Think about it.

The truth is white people have a very limited understanding of the complexities of race. Most BIPOC knew from the day they were born that the color of their skin was directly impacting every space they occupy. White is the “default setting” and everything else is “the other”.

BIPOC navigate their lives as “the other” several times a day:

  • Sometimes they’re the only person of their race in a white group.
  • Sometimes they feel the fear of danger because of their race.
  • They have been treated unfairly because of the color of their skin.
  • Sometimes they must laugh along with racist jokes to keep the peace.
  • Assumptions will be made about them because of their race.
  • They will have to work harder to gain equal opportunity.
  • They will learn early how to interact with cops, even if they haven’t broken the law, because their lives will be at risk.

The fact that white people don’t understand the complexities of navigating these situations in the world means we have white privilege.

Step Two: Understand that racism exists in all systems of power.

Racism is embedded into every structure of power in America.  Do your homework. It doesn’t take long to find glaring examples of racism in all the following systems:

  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Law enforcement
  • The Justice system
  • Euro centric history we’re taught in schools
  • Politics

White privilege is real. Read about it. Read what BIPOC have to say about it. We have been given an unearned advantage in systems that intentionally create barriers for BIPOC access and success.

When we argue about white privilege by saying things like “I’m white but don’t have privilege” or “It can’t be that bad” or “That happened during slavery but it’s not happening now” we are displaying our white fragility.

White fragility is when white people become so uncomfortable with race complexity and BIPOC’s account of racism, we become:

  • Defensive
  • Argumentative
  • Dismissive
  • Agitated
  • Angry

Step Three to becoming anti-racist is know that it is a process, a commitment to self-analysis, using your racial justice lens, reading and educating yourself from BIPOC, making yourself vulnerable. (See A place to start: Resources at the end of the article)

Step Four: Become an ally.

Next I’ve compiled a list of what BIPOC have asked from white allies:

  • LISTEN. Listen to the BIPOC in your lives, read about their experience, read about racism, learn from the valuable contributions they’ve made to shine the spotlight on what it’s like to live in America as a black and brown person. Don’t ask for justification or question their experience or emotions. Be uncomfortable. Find mentors. Take classes, follow on social media.
  • Understand that you are the byproduct of centuries of racism in our country. You have chosen at times to ignore the fact that racism exists because it didn’t affect you.
  • Respect the wide range of emotions from BIPOC, especially related to racism. Can you imagine the rage you would feel after all the injustice and brutality? Or maybe it’s grief or indifference. Don’t tell BIPOC how they should feel.
  • Talk about racism in white spaces! Bring this information to your workplaces, churches, synagogues, temples, organizations, sports teams, social circles, and families. Make the commitment to discuss race and your anti-racism work.
  • Relearn history. Read about the injustice, about the uprisings of BIPOC, the blatant racism that prevents BIPOC from voting, owning property, starting a business, sends them to jail, and to death row.

As doulas and educators, we communicate our values to our clients when we’re educated about racism. Even if your clients aren’t BIPOC, your willingness to address and understand racism makes you a safe space for others. It’s an invitation to BIPOC communities to engage and work with you. We need safe people in communities everywhere. You can be an ally. You can have difficult conversations. And you can learn to use your racial justice lens to see what’s right in front of you.  

A place to start: RESOURCES

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor, 2020 by Layla Saad

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, 2018 by Robin DiAngelo

An open letter: Seeking justice and systemic change for Native Families harmed by structural racism https://medium.com/@sandoratauztamupovi/an-open-letter-seeking-justice-and-systemic-change-for-native-families-harmed-by-structural-racism-caba8ea14f5a

Follow on social media (and find more):

Note from Abby Bordner: I’ve been a teacher, facilitator, consultant, and trainer for many years. I’m also a lifelong learner. Throughout my life, I’ve been committed to learning more so I can be better. I’m writing today to share with you some basic understanding of racism that help us move the conversation forward and make changes in the relationships and systems that need it most.

About the Author

Abby Bordner CLD, CPD, CLE®, ICCE, Faculty, started her career in Women’s Health. She began at Planned Parenthood in Portland, OR where she was trained as a health counselor for contraception and HIV/AIDS. She had her first child in 1999, when she began her interest in birth work. She pursued her doula certification, shortly after became a childbirth educator and eventually a lactation educator, as well. She teaches many educational workshops related to birth and parenting. She started an online parent education and personal support coaching business called Relationship Based Parenting. Her passion is working with families as a health and wellness educator to build skills that support compassionate families and all the important dynamics within it. She has two children and lives in Santa Fe, NM.

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