Maternal Mortality, Lead Lawsuits, and Solange’s Show

May 22, 2017

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Here’s our pick of news, writing, and research this week that investigates political questions at the intersections of gender, race, and region.

1. Lola Wasn’t Alone
Ai-jen Poo in The Atlantic: “In just two short days, The Atlantic’s article ‘My Family’s Slave,’ by the journalist Alex Tizon about his family’s enslavement of a woman named Eudocia ‘Lola’ Tomas Pulido, has caught the attention of and moved thousands of readers. The title itself is shocking in its admission of slavery tucked right into a modern American home. The story of Pulido is extraordinary in many ways, especially in terms of the length of her enslavement. But what should be more shocking is that her story is not as rare as one would hope. While slavery today doesn’t include the chains and horrors typically associated with it, it is unmistakably slavery, existing in modern America. In an ordinary American community. In a residential neighborhood. Where neighbors met her. She was enslaved. She lived among us, hidden in plain sight. And there are many more women like her.”

2. Racism and the Invisible Struggle of Mental Health in the Black Community
Sherri Williams in Self: “The first time I went to see a counselor, in my 20s as an undergraduate, I was referred to a white female clinician who was in her 50s. When we talked about one of the things that bothered me the most—the racism and sexual harassment that I experienced on my job—she asked me if I was sure people were disrespectful and unprofessional toward me because I’m a black woman. Maybe, she suggested, it was just my ‘attitude.’ I’ve only seen black women therapists since then. If finding a therapist is hard, finding a black mental health professional can feel impossible. African-American psychologists made up just 5.3 percent of the active psychology workforce in 2013, according to the American Psychological Association. Noting that ‘black clients are more likely to continue therapy beyond the first few sessions when seeing a black therapist,’ and that until recently, ‘access to preventive mind health services was limited to the wealthy, usually white middle class,’ the website africanamericantherapist.com lets people search for black therapists in major cities.”

3. Solange Makes the Guggenheim a Temple for Black Women
Yohana Desta in Vanity Fair: “Despite appreciating the Guggenheim, Solange critiqued the history of such museums: ‘I don’t care much about the institutions.’ Instead, she uses them to show what can happen when black women are fully in charge of artistic spaces. She then referred to her tweets from the previous day, which urged women of color to go into historically exclusive spaces and ‘tear the got damn walls down.’ In spaces like these, black female artists are only occasionally allowed in, expected to be grateful for such minimal allowance. ‘An Ode To’ burned through that expectancy, creating a ceremonial space where black women were akin to deities. ‘Inclusion is not enough,’ Solange declared afterward. ‘Allowance is not enough. We belong here. We built this shit.’

4. Why have thousands of smart, low-income NC students been excluded from advanced classes?
Joseph Neff, Ann Doss Helms, and Davis Raynor in part one of the News & Observer series Counted Out: “As they start fourth grade, bright children from low-income families are much more likely to be excluded from the more rigorous classes than their peers from families with higher incomes, the analysis shows. The unequal treatment during the six years ending in 2015 resulted in 9,000 low-income children in North Carolina being counted out of classes that could have opened a new academic world to them. This occurs in school districts across the state, in rural and urban areas, including the Triangle, which a recent Harvard study ranked as near the bottom of the country in economic mobility, the measure of how difficult it is for children from low-income households to climb out of poverty.”

5. The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth
Nina Martin and Renee Montagne in NPR & ProPublica: “In the U.S., maternal deaths increased from 2000 to 2014. In a recent analysis by the CDC Foundation, nearly 60 percent of such deaths were preventable. While maternal mortality is significantly more common among African Americans, low-income women and in rural areas, pregnancy and childbirth complications kill women of every race and ethnicity, education and income level, in every part of the U.S. ProPublica and NPR spent the last several months scouring social media and other sources, ultimately identifying more than 450 expectant and new mothers who have died since 2011. […] The divergent trends for mothers and babies highlight a theme that has emerged repeatedly in ProPublica’s and NPR’s reporting. In recent decades, under the assumption that it had conquered maternal mortality, the American medical system has focused more on fetal and infant safety and survival than on the mother’s health and well-being.”

6. The Poisoned Generation
Vann R. Newkirk II in The Atlantic: “Hundreds of women who’d been born in the projects and poisoned with lead their whole lives passed metals in utero to their children, whose first breaths took in clouds of white leaden dust. Lead levels per deciliter of blood among the plaintiffs regularly measured in the 20- to 40-microgram range, with spikes above 50 micrograms. […] As the list of plaintiffs compounded, Gambel and the other lawyers who frequently visited plaintiffs and advocated on their behalf became known to the residents of the HANO housing developments as ‘the babies’ lawyers,’ although the people they represented stopped being babies long before the case approached resolution. Those children had children, and those children grew up in those same projects. The group of mothers who’d led the charge against HANO as young adults themselves began to watch a generation of their grandchildren grow up in their homes and choke on the same lead dust.”