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Environmental policy during the Trump administration was nothing short of a disaster, including the rollback of more than 100 environmental rules that dismantled basic regulations. From reversing Obama-era protections against climate change to limiting federal environment-related funding, Black women, our families and communities are now at even greater risk.

Now that another Earth Day has passed, we must take a new look at how environmental racism has historically harmed communities of color, especially Black communities.

Now that we have an administration committed to addressing climate change and other environmental threats, it is essential that policymakers remember that Black communities are at greater risk than our white counterparts. In fact, Black people are the most common victims of heatwaves and experience a large proportion of heat-related illnesses and deaths. It turns out that race is the most significant indicator that a person lives near environmental contamination. Cities across the country have horrific levels of heavy metals and other pollutants, usually in predominantly Black neighborhoods.

When we combine heat exposure with medical and other structural racism in the U.S., we get a toxic mix that is killing Black women and pregnant people. Black women in the U.S. are three to five times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than their white counterparts. The impact of heat exposure has been proven to be a contributing factor to poor Black maternal health outcomes, including increased rates of premature deliveries, stillbirths and other poor outcomes.

Our elected leaders and public health officials must examine the many structural and systemic factors that contribute to poor maternal health outcomes for Black women and birthing people. We need to address everything from climate change to air and water pollution to medical professionals ignoring us when we need help

To stop Black maternal deaths and health disparities, we must take immediate action. President Biden has promised to take steps to slash the emission of greenhouse gases, invest in green jobs and protect land resources. That’s a great start, but we also need to ensure that efforts to rebuild our country’s infrastructure include an aggressive plan to clean up toxins in our Black communities — from water contaminated by old lead pipes to water and air contaminated by industrial waste.

We also need to get serious about the Black maternal health crisis, which is nothing short of a moral failing by the U.S. government and medical establishment. If white maternal health outcomes were that of Black women, you can be sure that we would be in a national state of emergency. Black women and communities are fed up with the blatant racism that is killing us.

We demand that Congress pass the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021. This legislation was introduced by the Black Maternal Health Caucus and will address the systemic racism that is lethal.

As we continue to celebrate Mother Earth, let’s show some love for Black mothers, too. Let’s respect the planet and Black women for a change.


Marcela Howell is the president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda.