According to a 2020 report published by MBRRACE-UK (Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk Through Audits and Confidential Enquiries Across the UK), Black women are four times more likely to die during pregnancy and after childbirth in the UK than white women.
It’s a statistic that shouldn’t exist in the 21st Century, in our supposedly “post-racial” society. But it does. And it highlights one of the most nefarious and tragic ways racial inequality impacts Black people.
It’s an issue that is finally being discussed in the mainstream, both the why and what can be done to reduce such inequality in the medical field.
Candice attributed the near-death experience to unconscious bias of the doctors
It is why this recent controversy over a documentary focusing on black motherhood has become so heated online. Candice Brathwaite, an author, journalist, and TV presenter, has done much research into the subject matter.
The birth of her first child ending in her going into septic shock and hospitalisation for a month, Candice attributed the near-death experience to unconscious bias of the doctors. This viewpoint is expanded upon in her bestselling book, I Am Not Your Baby Mother, which came out last year.
She also set up the initiative ‘Make Motherhood Diverse’ in 2017, to shed a light on the different types of motherhood away from the white middle class norm that is shown and promoted.
For many, Candice would be an obvious pick to present a documentary surrounding Black motherhood and all the complications and inequalities that come with childbirth. However, on the 5th February it was announced that a Channel 4 documentary focusing on this issue would be presented by Rochelle Humes.
The facts of the situation became slightly muddled. Many people believed that Candice had been replaced by Rochelle before Candice clarified the situation. Apparently, there were two separate documentaries. Candice was not in the running to present Channel 4’s documentary and then Candice turned down involvement in the second documentary as she would only be commissioned for her expertise and would not have creative control.
While on the surface this looks like a misunderstanding and a lot of words about nothing serious, we have to understand the deeper politics occurring in this situation. Candice, a dark-skinned Black woman with lived experience and vast knowledge on this issue, was never in the running to host this documentary.
The closer the proximity to whiteness the more favourably you are treated in society.
Instead, Channel 4 chose a mixed-race woman who fits the production teams’ criteria of being “removed” from the situation to add a layer of discovery to the documentary, according to Candice’s comments on the situation.
Something doesn’t add up. That’s because there is a clear colourist element at the heart of this decision. Colorism being the discrimination of dark skinned people of colour in favour of light skinned people of colour. The closer the proximity to whiteness the more favourably you are treated in society.
It’s confusing that Channel 4 would make Rochelle Humes, a person more known for light entertainment presenting and who has never used her platform to talk about this issue before, the face of such a documentary.
It’s even more confusing as when looking at the report it shows that mixed-race women do not suffer this medical inequality to the same extent as Black women. Women of mixed ethnicity are two times more likely to die of childbirth compared to white women. A statistic that is still shocking, but isn’t the main narrative the documentary is supposedly focusing on.
Colorism can be observed in so many places in the media and it becomes blindingly obvious once you notice it
This isn’t the only time colorism has been observed when it comes to documentaries. Little Mix’s Leigh-Anne Pinnock last year presented a documentary on racism and colorism with BBC Three.
While this documentary did come from a place of personal experience from her time with being a part of the girl group, it was odd seeing a light-skinned black woman front the issue of colorism.
It might have been more appropriate to see a dark-skinned woman broach this topic, as Leigh-Anne is the one who benefits from colorism, not the one who suffers it. Colorism can be observed in so many places in the media and it becomes blindingly obvious once you notice it. Not just in the world of documentaries, but in every aspect of film and television.
While everyone welcomes the huge spotlight this documentary will shine on this very urgent issue, which is life or death for Black mothers, it must be a priority that Black women lead their own narratives.
Black women need to be the face of this discussion because it is disproportionately affecting Black women more. While Rochelle Humes is a talented presenter and popular TV personality, this isn’t her story to tell.
Colorism, as well as racism, are alive and well in the UK. Only through breaking the cycle of light-skinned or mixed-race women being the faces of Black womanhood do we make any progress on this front.
Featured image courtesy of Miki Jourdan via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.
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Colorism continues to be an issue in communities of color across the globe. It is important to understand that all of our stories are different and there isn’t a “one size fits all” when in comes to topics affecting women of color. Deeply melanated women of color navigate through the world differently and our stories need to told from our prospective.