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MD: MoCo Infant Mortality Disparity Blamed On Racism

In Montgomery County, there is a racial disparity in infant mortality rates. According to The Gazette, three more black babies out of 1000 die before turning one than the county average (8.2/1000 as opposed to 5.1/1000). The county’s African American Health Program, a branch of the county Department of Health and Human Services, says this disparity can be linked to racism.

Not poverty, diet, sickness, genetic problems or being overworked. No, instead the disparity in infant mortality is caused in the county’s black women by racism and sexism. To be clear, they are not blaming economic problems from past racism, but instead seem to suggest that present and general racism and sexism in the county are the primary causes of infant mortality disparities. Program manager Heather Ross says that these women are insured, middle-class and employed, although she offers no statistical proof in the article of such a claim.

As a county resident (born and raised), it seems rather spurious to blame infant mortality on a social factor like racism. The program manager and others do not blame racism indirectly, which would make much more sense- black poverty, after all, was exacerbated for decades in America by a more generalized racial animus. They do not blame possible health factors, like diet, smoking, genetics, or working too long. Instead, they blame racism directly, in a general sense.

To those who aren’t Maryland natives, let me explain. Montgomery County is one of the most racially, religiously and culturally diverse counties in the nation. It has also been a solid-blue bastion (no Republicans in the county government) for decades. We are, as a result of our location, one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. This is a county where, according to the Daily Caller, a serious proposal for raising the levels of voting is allowing non-citizens and 16-year-olds to vote. We are not exactly what you would think of when you think of America’s continuing racial issues.

This isn’t a racially tense area, and, especially without offering data to back up the assertion that the women in the program aren’t poor, claiming racism as a cause of infant mortality disparities seems rather suspect. The Gazette mentions only one study/documentary with a general correlation between the two, which is not exactly a comprehensive level of proof.

I’d love to see whether or not the women mentioned by those in the health program are in fact middle-class or insured- who is to say that they don’t hail from our growing pockets of concentrated poverty in the eastern part of the county? The Gazette did not bother to verify these rather inflammatory claims. The Gazette also failed to properly divide our diverse black population between real African-Americans – immigrants ranging from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana and elsewhere – and our ‘native’ or second-generation American Black population, which could offer some interesting insight into the issue.

It is one thing to claim that people suffer from the economic repercussions of decades of racism, or that people suffer from health problems inherited from ancestors who suffered through that same poverty.

Well-thought-out arguments have been made explaining the connection between racism and poverty, and racism and broader health issues across generations. Instead of using those arguments, the women interviewed by the Gazette simply blame racism, as a vague cause, offering no further proof or explanation. It would certainly play well in the county- blaming racism is definitely a claim our county’s progressive denizens would not question to any appreciable degree.

It is even more damning, then, that the latter half of this article offers another possible (and more credible) explanation. Breastfeeding is mentioned, by the nurse case manager of the African American Health Program, as a practice that could lower the risk of infant mortality. The SMILE program, an initiative of the African American Health Program, has 60% of participants breastfeed.

Since 2003, only one baby in that program has died before the age of one. Furthermore, the county recently launched the #IamBlackandIBreastfeed campaign to try and correct the lower levels of breastfeeding among the population. The launching of such a campaign would give credence to the idea that perhaps behavior (the lack of breastfeeding) not social factors (racism) could be one of the causes of our infant mortality disparity. This angle is not properly explored by The Gazette.

Instead of fully investigating the demography and economics of the subject population, instead of fully exploring behavioral causes and other causes of stress on pregnant women, people just blame racism. That is a cop-out, a nice rhetorical flourish and emotional hook that obscures the lack of research and lack of real effort on the part of the African American Health Program to investigate the issue. For shame!

Brad Matthews

Brad Matthews is the Digital Content Coordinator intern for Watchdog Wire. Twitter is @bradmatthewsDC

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