Why Achieving Reproductive Justice Requires Investing In Black Futures
Lack of investment in securing the social determinants of health for Black people is just one symptom of “the disease of social racism.”
July 20, 2020 at 6:47 pm
Co-written by Stephanie R. M. Bray
One of the startling realizations about Black futures is the possibility that there might not be Black people in the future. COVID19 and unarmed shootings of Black people by police already compound the existing and shameful Black maternal health crisis. All combine to create a deadly recipe for extinction. Fortunately, a roadmap exists for the strategic investments that are required to build a different future. In his new book entitled Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities, Dr. Andre Perry provides a clear path to improve the conditions that impact where Black people live, work, pray, play and thrive.
The book carefully balances complicated economics, statistics and multiple data sources with clearly written stories, and anecdotes that create an accessible roadmap for making investments in Black futures. Dr. Perry makes a clear case for why neighborhood revitalization and education reform are two such necessary and essential investments. He also makes two arguments for reproductive justice that challenge us to imagine a world where the innovation and love that Black people leverage to build families and communities are viewed as assets and not deviations from a default standard grounded in whiteness.
The first argument is that making family and kin is an intergenerational process that is far too often limited by traditional notions of two adults with children. Dr. Perry masterfully uses data and his own personal experiences to make the case that our appreciation for and understanding of family and kin is novice and is ripe for an upgrade. In the book, he describes his childhood with his maternal grandmother as primary caretaker, and he discusses his mother and others who are part of his family — regardless of blood and/or biological ancestry — with intentional and mindful grace. Dr. Perry does not cast stigma, shame, judgement or blame on his family, and highlights something often missing in discourse about Black families: an acknowledgement and appreciation that there is more than one way to be a Black family and they are all legitimate and worthy of investment.
He charts a way forward for researchers that starts with the presumption that there are assets in Black communities, and that Black families in particular, however constructed, are assets to be leveraged and not deviations from a white norm. Dr. Perry argues that this perceived deviation is too often the basis for research questions rooted in assumptions of inferiority and therefore should not be the standard. He writes: “Our relentless pursuit of disparities between Black and white people often omits the policies that were designed to devalue Black assets. These omissions help foster a sense of superiority among whites while minimizing financial and social privileges gained from not acknowledging root policy causes of disparities.”
Dr. Perry imagines a framework that does not center white norms as the basis for understanding the differences between worth, value, costs and investment essential to making evidence-based policy specific to the health and wellbeing of Black people. He posits that “If we are really interested in improving Black communities, it is much less useful to select whites as the referent.” Further, he critiques the practice of centering whiteness in disparity research at all. “It keeps a focus on Black people having to strive for benchmarks made impossible through racism,” Dr. Perry writes.
This decentering includes investing resources in researchers from underrepresented groups and “train them to center the community or group other than white people.” In so doing, the true focus of disparities will come into view as opposed to the notion that there is something wrong with Black people, when in fact “There is nothing wrong with Black people that racism can’t fix.”
Despite the fact that Dr. Perry is not specifically grounded in healthcare, public health and reproductive health services provision, he masterfully crafts a strong case for the financial investments necessary to achieve reproductive justice.
The second argument he makes that is relevant to reproductive justice broadens our understanding of how to make family and kin. In chapter six, entitled “Having Babies Like White People,” he unapologetically recounts the stories surrounding his experiences with infertility and becoming a father, while supporting his wife (an obstetrician-gynecologist and good friend to the authors of this review, Dr. Joia-Crear Perry) who served as the attending physician for the birth of their son, Roby, via surrogate. It is important to note that Dr. Crear-Perry also assisted their surrogate during the births of her own children and that all of the people involved in the birth of Roby, are now close and surrounded in love — a true 21st century upgrade to our understanding of family and kin.
Dr. Perry recounts he and his wife’s journey to parenthood as one fraught with racism. From the stress of trying to conceive without, and then with a surrogate, to their experience with a healthcare system that does not listen to Black women, the Perry’s is a story that too many Black families share, irrespective of wealth or education. Dr. Perry’s assertion that structural racism, and not Black mothers, are the cause of Black maternal mortality, is supported by extensive research which he cites in his book. What hits close to home for Dr. Perry is USA Today’s investigation into the New Orleans hospital where his son was born. The investigation revealed that the hospital “placed all the blame (for childbirth complications) squarely on the patients rather than the care they received.” For the Perry’s, having babies like white people had profound meaning in the face of the Black maternal health crisis.
Lack of investment in securing the social determinants of health for Black people is just one symptom of “the disease of social racism,” according to Dr. Perry. However, he is hopeful. He writes: “Dismantling the structures that create health disparities is not an impossible undertaking.” He cites several examples of how investments in affordable housing, public education, universal access to quality healthcare and access to broadband technology that fosters social connection have made deconstruction of structural racism achievable.
Know Your Price: Valuing Black Live and Property in America’s Black Cities is an important contribution that clearly makes the case for how any path forward to ensure Black futures will require the dismantling of structural racism, centering Black communities and Black people as assets, and distributing resources accordingly. Dr. Perry’s book provides that roadmap necessary for this vital work.