A Snapshot of Systemic Racism in Action

A Snapshot of Systemic Racism in Action September 27, 2020

A series of three tweets caught my attention this morning, from Mandie Landry (@votelandry), a Catholic lawyer and representative of Louisiana’s District 91.

In the first tweet, she establishes her Catholic credentials and that she is pro-choice.  #Prochoice is also in her Twitter bio, so this is clearly an issue she campaigns on, or at least strongly identifies with.

In the second tweet, which is a reply to the first so we can infer that one thought leads to the next, she laments the number of poor women in Louisiana who die in childbirth.

–> She is absolutely correct that this is a terrible injustice, and we as a society and as individuals should be employing all moral means to reduce the United State’s shameful maternal mortality statistics.  From the CDC:

Pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births (the pregnancy-related mortality ratio or PRMR) for black and AI/AN women older than 30 was four to five times as high as it was for white women. Even in states with the lowest PRMRs and among women with higher levels of education, significant differences persist. These findings suggest that the disparity observed in pregnancy-related death for black and AI/AN women is a complex national problem.

source: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2019/p0905-racial-ethnic-disparities-pregnancy-deaths.html

So here we have some common ground, right?  Ms. Landry and I have radically different opinions on some points, but certainly we could all work together to prioritize rectifying this blatantly obvious and eminently fixable problem.  If we know how to not kill white women in childbirth, then surely the technology exists to not kill other women, too?  Right? It might take a lot of work to fix this problem, but also this is one that medicine can treat.  We know this.

So in her next tweet we’re looking for something about funding better prenatal care, or providing more follow-up postpartum, or maybe a statewide investigation into causes of maternal mortality, or a reform of Louisiana’s health care laws since that’s her wheelhouse . . .

Wait, what? What she says instead is, “I also want to say something about how shameful it is to be a white woman, often. We’re embarrassing. I don’t know what else to say besides I’m sorry and I’m trying.”


What on earth would cause someone to make this the third statement in a three-tweet series that opened with abortion rights, continued onto disparities in maternal mortality, and then . . . for some reason, she’s suddenly talking about feeling ashamed of a fact about herself that she cannot control.


Shame is not the behavior of people who are innocent.

I would propose that Ms. Landry’s instinctive sense of shame, expressed in tweet #3, is directly tied to the content of tweets #1 and #2: When your solution to maternal mortality — and let’s be clear that maternal mortality is a race-related problem in the United States — is abortion . . . you are personally part of furthering what systemic racism exists in the United States.

Why do I buy in on this controversial term?

system that somehow adds up to stark differences in survival rates for the most fundamental act of the human species — conceiving and bearing children — tells us that even if everyone in the long chain of provision of care is doing their best, and mean well, and aren’t in any way trying to discriminate, somehow the system is spitting out racially-biased results.  That’s all.  Systemic racism in a nutshell.  We have a system that is going wrong somewhere.

Great.  INTJ here, ready to assist in picking apart the system. If we know a system is broken, then we can hope to fix it!

Ms. Landry has laid us a trail of clues to one of the problems in the system.  There are many others, but I’m going to assert that this one is foundational: Rather than focusing on the right to reproduce as the key concept in “reproductive rights” Ms. Landry’s focus is on shunting people facing difficult odds towards not reproducing.

Ms. Landry is understandably ashamed of herself because she is literally using her position as a white woman in power to push the narrative that poor women — and in fact the CDC’s numbers clarify that in many cases it’s not poverty but failure-to-be-white — have no choice but to kill their babies because surviving childbirth is not something the people in power care to address.  She being the person in power, in this case. Her own chosen narrative involves telling women of color, “The choice I’m willing to fight for — the one I am going to build my political career upon — is the choice that your children don’t get born.”

She hasn’t connected the dots.  And yet, in a simple three-tweet statement, that’s where her brain is going. It’s like something in her Catholic education is stirring deep within, telling her I am part of the problem even when she can’t see how blatantly she is actively sustaining the systemic racism that her #prochoice rhetoric feeds.

Fortunately the solution is simple.  Start working instead on giving all women real choices.  Spend your limited time and energy fighting to end the scourge of high maternal mortality rates, so that all women, regardless of race or income, who wish to become mothers can make that choice without fear.  More fundamentally? When a woman faces a crisis pregnancy, stop viewing her and her child as problems to be solved, and start viewing both mother and child as persons to be loved.


Three African-American soldiers posing in uniform, late 1800's.

Artwork: Photo showing uniforms of African-American cavalry, Leslie’s official history of the Spanish-American war, J.W. Bush, 1899.





Browse Our Archives