Sunday Morning ~ White Privilege

Sunday Morning ~ White Privilege

October 14, 2018

White privilege. During my time living and working in various places around the world I have thought about this phenomenon. It’s so obvious when I am there. It’s easy to get swept up in the glaring problems and how one’s skills might help, but the end result or process isn’t so easy to evaluate. In Congo this was discussed a lot. Are we helping or hurting? Is saving someone’s life enough in the moment, or is it causing long term harm by perpetuating dependence? It’s one reason why I didn’t want to work with MSF again. When I found the SEED program, which would focus on educating medical professionals and build capacity for delivery of medical services in the local setting, it made much more sense to me. I believe in the program. I felt part of the team of Malawian colleagues who were working hard to improve midwifery education. I completely believe in the midwifery ward project and want to promote it any way I can. I also feel it is a model that could be used around the world, including in Maine, where the problems with delivering maternity care are similar, though not identical. 

All that was challenged this week. As I presented the midwifery ward project to a group on Friday, it was pointed out, very publicly, that I was full of white privilege and had no right to be presenting on this as I was not Malawian. Whoa. That was a show stopper. My slides were offensive and disrespectful I was told. This was nearly the same presentation we gave in Rotterdam, the major difference was that Ursula and I did it together there. I had never considered that I would be offending anyone. I believe this is a great project that could be duplicated in Maine, where women are also suffering in the system. This person took me down. I had to struggle to even continue, not sure if I should, or shut the projector off and walk away? Or open it up for discussion and bag the rest of the presentation? People had paid to attend this conference and I was madly trying to figure out what to do, standing in front of everyone, trying desperately not to faint as my vision got blurry and legs started giving out. But that’s all about me, of course.

White guilt, perpetuating colonialism, white privilege, white, white, white. 

In the late 80’s, we were deciding where to make our home and considered all we wanted out of a good life, including schools for our children, access to cultural events, proximity to natural beauty, affordability, etc. Maine was a good fit for us. The drawback was the lack of racial or cultural diversity as Maine is a very white state. We’d envisioned raising our kids amidst diversity. In lengthy discussions about it with friends, it was pointed out that Maine may not have much racial diversity, but it certainly has socioeconomic diversity. There is incredible wealth here and devastating poverty. I started looking at those parameters as another type of diversity. Working in the medical system, it is blatantly obvious. There are two standards of care. maybe more. So what is really helping those in dire poverty? Does our skin color matter when the poorest here are of the same tribe?

I get frustrated when some men I know deny or refuse to acknowledge male privilege. Do they really not see it? Do I know what they should do about it? Am I willing to make suggestions about how to be more cognizant of it, or should I plant my feet and tell them to figure it out themselves?  

In some ways I’m grateful for the public scolding because it has made me think a lot about the issue and how my actions feed into perpetuating white privilege. I also wonder if it was productive? Would it have made more sense to point it all out in the Q&A where we could have had a meaningful discussion and done some problem solving? It made the audience uncomfortable; it made me mortified; is that the most productive? As I did the eighteen mile training run today, I thought no discomfort I felt during that run could come close to what I felt during my presentation Friday. I’d been so focused on us being one group of midwives, working for the same cause, I hadn’t broken us down into black, white, hispanic, native american, or any other race. I just thought we were all midwives and who cares what color anyone is? I never could recover to make that point and I was too guarded about every subsequent word worrying I would set off another tirade. Watching the audience look at the floor for the remainder of the hour took some guts. I’ll give myself that much. Nothing is clear right now, but I still have the underlying conviction that we’ve got to come together for a common cause. It scares me to think of fractioning off like this, though I want to move forward with respect and intention. How that happens is unclear. I hope the fog lifts soon.

Sunday Morning~ Three Point Five

Sunday Morning ~ Three Point Five

Green Lake, Wisconsin

…long-term change never comes with submission, resignation, or despair about the inevitability and intractability of the status quo.  ~Erica Chenoweth

October 7, 2018

On Saturday morning, walking around Milwaukee, I came across this historical marker:

The Rescue of Joshua Glover

Joshua Glover was a runaway slave who sought freedom in Racine in 1852. In 1854, his Missouri owner used the Fugitive Slave Act to apprehend him. This 1850 law permitted slave catchers to cross state lines to capture escaped slaves. Glover was taken to Milwaukee and imprisoned. 

Word spread about Glover’s incarceration and a great crowd gathered around the jail demanding his release. They beat down the jail door and released Joshua Glover. He was eventually escorted to Canada and safety.

The Glover incident helped to galvanize abolitionist sentiment in Wisconsin. This case eventually led the state supreme court to defy the federal government by declaring the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional.

State Historical Society of Wisconsin

Like most people I know, I’ve been in a dazed stupor trying to grasp what has become of our nation. Injustice is nothing new in this country. Our past makes the recent violation of human rights seem rather quaint. We’ve all got lists and lists of examples of it in the workplace, the athletic field, bedroom, wherever. We’ve been socialized to tolerate it. Every new travesty seems like a an unstoppable steamroller flattening a country I’d wanted to love.

Midwives have been tolerating this crap for generations trying to advocate for decent care for women. In the male dominated, money grubbing system, we fight, work, despair, and burn out. Witnessing abuse of the women we care for by those in power is just another day. I quit my job over it, did a TED talk about it, and scream about it almost every day of my life. But it goes on.

Several years ago the community hospital where I worked hired a male doctor to join the medical staff, one who would be part of the women’s health team. Until then, it was me and Mary, a family practice doctor, sharing the responsibility for women’s health and maternity care. When new-guy Mike came on board our cesarean section rate tripled. We complained. Not all of these surgeries were medically necessary! But he brought revenue to the hospital and wealth to himself, so who cared if women suffered for it? Mike blatantly sexually harassed nurses and patients while blatantly flaunting medical protocols. He altered medical records to support his actions, and administration refused to act on it. We provided evidence, we begged medical staff to support us, we went through all the standard processes of the sham they call peer review. He continued to practice abusing women in the name of medicine. Many on the medical staff knew it but refused to speak out. Mary spent years trying to get him removed from the staff and was crucified for it. It took a huge personal toll on her. I quit my job over it. This is the crap we’ve dealt with. A male physician is allowed to continue to practice having knowingly committed a felony (altering medical records), lying pathologically when confronted (including to administrators who acknowledged they were lies), and basically mutilating women for money. Ho hum. Just our medical system. He was finally fired when (oh surprise!) one of the older white males on staff finally spoke up, but that was probably more because he was worried the hospital would get sued than to advocate for the women he was harming. This reprehensible doctor was finally arrested for wife battering and his career finally ruined. Poor thing. And was there an apology from administration for not believing us and letting it go on as long as it did? That would be no. The powerful never admit they’ve made a mistake. 

So, yes, the socialization continues. We live with it until some undefined breaking point when the powerful go just a bit too far. I despair and try not to lose hope or energy thinking more about immigrating than fighting when I find inspiration in a historical marker.

Three. point. five. percent. Historically no regime has survived a resistance of more than 3.5% of it’s population. None. Not the worst dictators in the world. It’s possible. We’ve got eleven million people willing to rise up and resist, but it must be sustained and we can’t lose hope. What would that be in Maine to bring down Susan Collins (or whoever she is now)? Three hundred thousand or so? We can do this. No more begging her not to sell us out. No more throwing up in my mouth while thanking her for a rare vote that actually reflected a shred of humanity. Jesus.( As if preserving health care for her constituents shouldn’t have been a no-brainer.) I’m done wasting my time with her. No more begging and pleading to stand up for decency. I’ll focus my energy supporting those who will bring down these motherfuckers while we still have something left of our judicial system.

So I’ve been researching the 3.5% rule. Here are some basic principles: 

  1. We can’t give up.
  2. We must show up and get others to show up.
  3. We must have a common cause and focus on it. Right now it is taking back the house and senate for the democrats, no matter how flawed you believe their tactics. We’ll hold their feet to the fire but we must get them in.
  4. We must persuade others to this cause.
  5. We must be willing to volunteer and utilize our strengths in different areas.
  6. We must not lose hope even when there are setbacks like this week.

Onward. Come with me. There is safety in numbers.