For years, we have known that the infant mortality rate for African-Americans is much higher in America than for whites and Hispanics. The question has always been why this is true.
The overall infant mortality rate in this country is 7.0 babies out of every 1000. The rate for whites is 5.8 out of 1000. For African-Americans the rate jumps to a whopping 13.8 out of 1000. In some African-American communities, the rate is higher than in many developing nations.
Making the matter even more mysterious is the fact that the rate remains high in spite of the level of medical care given. The phenomenon seems to cut across class lines. Even affluent African-American women are more likely to have premature and low birth-weight babies than white women.
Michael Lu, an obstetrician and researcher at UCLA, thinks the answer may be stress brought on by racism. He says, "That's the elephant in the room. When we're studying racial disparities, for decades people have looked at stress and infant mortality without looking at the reasons for the stress. We know that one of the leading causes of infant mortality among African-Americans is preterm birth. We know that stress is an important risk factor, and it initiates the release of stress hormones leading to preterm birth and increase susceptibility for infection. The question is, do we think racial discrimination and racism is stressful?"
The answer to that question seems obvious -- of course it is stressful. How could it not be stressful? As one study participant told researchers, "The pregnancy scares the life out of me because I am pregnant with a baby boy, and I know how black boys are treated in this society."
This must give pause to those of us who love this country and want to make it better for all its citizens. Racism is not just a social and economic evil. It is actually killing babies!
This is one more reason why we must wipe out this pernicious evil in our society. There is no middle ground on racism. Those who do not fight it, allow it to exist and are therefore as guilty as its proponents.