Suspended in Air, Without a Net

As I watched Rihanna perform her remarkable Halftime show yesterday —pregnant and suspended alone in mid air— my thoughts immediately went to both the new HULU 1619 Documentary, and also a sobering study reported on by the New York Times, out Sunday morning.

I hope you saw them both. As I said over the weekend, we White people should give special attention to the new 1619 documentary. Nikole Hannah Jones and team devote an entire episode to the ways in which Black women were especially brutalized during the time of slavery, but also into the present day.

And lest we deny such truth, lest we believe they are “in the past,” along comes yesterday’s reporting by the New York Times on a deeply shocking study, that cuts to the core of many of our beliefs about race, class, and income.

Here’s a headline quote:

“As a Black infant, you’re starting off with worse health, even those born into these wealthy families,” said Sarah Miller, a health economist at the University of Michigan.”

The study found that wealthy Black women (those in the top ten percent of income) have *worse* health outcomes than even the poorest of White pregnant women.

(I will post a link to the reporting in the first comment…)

Meaning, not only is the health of their babies more at risk than comparably wealthy White women, the health of their babies is *even worse* than the poorest of *all* White pregnant women.

And so, as I watch Rihanna fly through the air alone, I was struck by the juxtaposition. This reporting, which I had just read early Sunday morning, and her remarkable halftime show, came together in a unified message about how *all* wealthy pregnant Black women are, still to this day, suspended in air, on their own, denied the very health outcomes we pretend wealth would/should/could make available to them.

The 1619 documentary suggests that medical professionals historically have dismissed and ignored the pain of Black women. We all remember the story of Serena Williams, but I wonder if we White folks just pretend it was an aberration?

I can only say that I’ve seen this first hand, through the eye of my Latina wife. Over the past three decades, I’ve seen medical professional ignore *her* pain; in ways that education and income did not apparently mitigate. It was, and is, shocking.

So, I can only tell you: I wasn’t surprised by this study.

The point of my essay here is to again speak to White people and say what the Times’ reporting makes plain, but what we apparently still dismiss:

“The new study demonstrates that disparities are not explained by income, age, marital status or country of birth. Rather, by showing that even rich Black mothers and babies have a disproportionately higher risk of death, the data suggests broader forces at play in the lives of Black mothers, Professor Rossin-Slater said.

“It’s not race, it’s racism,” said Tiffany L. Green, an economist focused on public health and obstetrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The data are quite clear that this isn’t about biology. This is about the environments where we live, where we work, where we play, where we sleep.””

Americans —Left, Right, and Center— like to pretend that education and income magically overcome our still-deeply imbedded societal racism. This study suggests something much worse: that the issues are so deep and pervasive, and that even education and wealth have not yet overcome them.

My own sense is, this isn’t just about healthcare. Healthcare is just the “presenting issue” of this specific study. The deeper point is about an embedded deeply pervasive and embedded racism that cannot be “wished away.”

And it was all unintentionally there last night…

Rihanna — performing for tens of millions, all the while enduring armchair critics who (simultaneously, apparently…) thought she was too provocative and also not provocative enough; too boring and yet also too risqué.

Rihanna— doing every thing our society claims to value…being successful, self-motivated, living out the American Dream as so many other Black and Brown women do; and yet, as the Times suggests, still statistically floating out on her own.

Rihanna— Proudly announcing her pregnancy, yet statistically subject to the same racism that comes to all Black women, regardless of education and income.

I know she didn’t intend to create that visual ahead of time. She couldn’t have possibly imagine that her beautifully planned choreography would coincide with the Times’ reporting on Black pregnant women and health outcomes.

But, there it all was, all on the same day.

And I could not look away.

I could not *not* see the metaphor.

Especially if you are White, I hope you can see it too.

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