Most people of color can point to at least one moment when they realize that popular culture in America distorts the reality of their history and existence.
The most memorable experience for me was when I was in the sixth-grade in my segregated public school in Virginia. One of our courses was Virginia history and the state had provided us with the required history textbook. Somewhere between the covers of that book was a picture of a group of smiling, dancing enslaved African Americans being observed by a small group of amused white people – presumably the owner and his family. The text explained that most slaves were happy with their condition and prospered under the kindly supervision of their masters.
Fortunately, my sixth-grade teacher was having none of it. He had us open our books to that page and told us that we were being fed lies so that white people could remain in power in the state. He explained that truths were being kept from us because knowledge is power. It is the power to improve your life.
There are so many lies in American popular culture, beginning with the moment we’re born – in the maternity ward. Several studies demonstrate that racism in America kills black expectant mothers and their newborn babies, but popular culture tells us that they are receiving the best health care.
A New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene 2016 report titled “Severe Maternal Morbidity in New York City, 2008–2012” put it this way: “Black non-Latina women with at least a college degree had higher Severe Maternal Morbidity rates than women of other race/ethnicities who never graduated high school.:
The National Center for Biotechnology Information published a paper in 2016 that states: “Racism and racial discrimination in the USA is thought to be a major driver of the differences between birth outcomes among different racial and ethnic groups, particularly between black women and women of other races.”
The Centers for Disease Control found that during 2011 to 2013, there were 12.7 deaths per 100,000 live births for white women within a year of giving birth. But for black women, the rate of death was almost four times higher at 43.5 deaths per 100,000 live births.
While few popular media outlets have focused on this problem, Newsweek magazine published an article in 2016 that reported: “The shameful secret is that even when controlling for age, socioeconomic status and education, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that African-American women … face a nearly four times higher risk of death from pregnancy complications than white women. In parts of the U.S. with high concentrations of women of color who live in poverty, such as Mississippi, maternal death rates can surpass those of sub-Saharan Africa.”
Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, particularly in the area of maternal health for black women, the popular thinking is that U.S. health care is the best in the world.
In 2015, Time magazine, MSNBC, CBS, CNN and other news outlets reported that the nonprofit organization Save Our Children, in its annual report, ranked the United States as 33rd among 179 nations in the world for quality of life for women and children. That ranking was based upon an overall score that took into account mothers’ and children’s health, educational, economic and political status.