Yesterday I read a book called Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, a scholarly study from 1997 by Dorothy Roberts. It's a book I should have read long ago, for a number of reasons. First of all, it's incredibly important and often cited. But I didn't realize that there were even more personal reasons I should have read it.
Here's how it starts:
In 1989, officials in Charleston, South Carolina, initiated a policy of arresting pregnant women whose prenatal tests revealed they were smoking crack. In some cases, a team of police tracked down expectant mothers in the city's poorest neighborhoods. In others, officers invaded the maternity ward to haul away patients in handcuffs and leg irons, hours after giving birth. One woman spent the final weeks of pregnancy detained in a dingy cell in the Charleston County Jail. When she went into labor, she was transported in chairs to the hospital, and remained shackled to the bed during the entire delivery. All but one of the four dozen women arrested for prenatal crimes in Charleston were Black.
You know that when you're reading a book called Killing the Black Body, and it starts in the place where you live, that this is a bad, bad sign.
I knew a bit about this horrifying practice, because I would talk about it in my Women's Studies classes at Vanderbilt. I'd talk about how racism affects reproductive rights, about the ways that racism and sexism intersect, and about how racism and sexism help to create policies that are actually bad for everybody. I learned a bit more about it once I came to Charleston: I learned that one of the women whose path crosses mine again and again, Susan Dunn, was one of the attorneys who helped bring this case before the US Supreme Court and get this practice to be recognized as unconstitutional.
What I didn't know until I read Roberts' book is that the Medical University of South Carolina, MUSC, enthusiastically helped to make this racist, sexist policy happen. In fact, it was their idea. This makes me sick to my stomach for a number of reasons:
- I gave birth to my daughter there. (And I have some stories from that experience that will give you a sense of how they approach patients depending on the class stereotypes they're projecting onto them. Perhaps I'll blog about some of that at some point.)
- I've had MRI after MRI there.
- Maybelle's wonderful speech therapist is there, so we visit an MUSC office once a week.
- Any other medical care Maybelle needs--like hearing and vision tests--we have performed there.
- Biffle has gotten ER care from them on multiple occasions.
- I have good friends who've completed their degrees there.
I'm going to go email my friends who work at MUSC, as well as Susan Dunn, and find out if MUSC has gone through some sort of serious soul-searching process and made amends for being part of a practice that shat upon black women and their children.