It is racism, not race itself, that is the driving force behind disparately high rates of maternal and infant deaths among African Americans, fueled by both explicit and implicit bias. Income level, education, and socio-economic status are not protective factors as they are for white Americans when it comes to maternal and infant mortality. Structural racism compromises health.

The combination of racism and sexism often result in women of color, particularly African American women, consistently reporting experiencing bias and discrimination based on their race and gender in health care settings. This compounded discrimination results in women, but especially women of color, feeling invisible or unheard when asking medical providers for help and when expressing issues with pain or discomfort during and after the birthing process. The detrimental impact of racism on African American women’s mental, emotional, and physical health throughout the lifespan is well documented.

The Los Angeles Urban League, in conjunction with other organizations such as the March of Dimes and the King Drew Medical Center, is working with a number of organizations to address this important issue through community outreach focusing on building a base of knowledge around this important issue as well as building leadership training, developing a network of advocacy for prenatal and postpartum support.

In all cases, acknowledging racism as the underlying cause of maternal and infant deaths is critical to finding policy solutions that can effectively eliminate racial disparities. To address the legacy and impact of racism, policy solutions should have an intentional focus on those most in need—African American women and families.

The Los Angeles Urban League, as the Co-Chair of the South Los Angeles, South Bay, African American Infant & Maternal Mortality Community Action Team (SLAASB AAIMM CAT) is working to promote, market and coordinate events to increase the awareness of this issue to the African American community and to the world.